This case study is part of the LGA's Housing Advisers Programme which funds the provision of an independent adviser offering bespoke expert support to local authorities for a specific project working to deliver homes, reduce homelessness, or generate savings or revenues.
Eastleigh Borough Council sought research to help shape the approach and devise policy that will create mixed and balanced communities and ensure that different housing needs in the borough are addressed.
The research provides lessons applicable across Eastleigh but has particular relevance to the masterplanning of two strategic schemes in the borough, totalling 7,000 dwellings.
For one of the strategic schemes (land west of Horton Heath) the council is the landowner and, through this role and its wider planning, housing and investment functions, it has a number of ways in which it can promote good practice in the planning and delivery of new housing.
To date, residential development in the borough has focused on relatively low density housing which primarily meets the needs of a family market. This focus can work against creating more mixed and balanced communities and of making best use of the land available for development.
The challenge for the council is to develop an approach to the planning of its new communities, so that a wider range of local housing needs are met (including for older households and for newly forming households) while the advantages of the area as a place to live for families, are not lost.
Other challenges include meeting the heavy demand for affordable housing and to broaden the range of affordable housing available so that the needs of households across a spectrum of incomes are catered for. The council has an ambitious programme of direct intervention in the housing market (through a company set up with a neighbouring authority and two housing association partners) and wants to use this to establish a development programme that addresses housing affordability issues in Eastleigh. The council recognises that its involvement in the housing market needs to complement the activities of the development industry and a challenge for the study is to consider how this balance is best achieved.
The research undertaken for this case study employed a mix of desk based analysis of statistics about past housing delivery, compared the performance in Eastleigh with that of its neighbouring authorities, reviewed the policies and guidance used by the Council and then sought the views of the local development industry (housebuilders, estate agents and housing associations) through a series of telephone interviews.
Drawing the evidence together, a series of key findings and actions were identified. These were that:
- The market will not necessarily deliver housing for mixed and balanced communities and there needs to be a clear statement of requirements for future housing mix and provision of specialist accommodation.
- Although the study reconfirmed that the borough (away from Eastleigh town centre) is essentially a family market, a modest shift towards more smaller units (one and two bed) and a reduction in the larger units (four and five bedroom) would support an increase in development density (thus making better use of available land).
- Some housing that is needed (eg housing for older persons) may not necessarily be the most viable form of development. However, where the council is the land owner, it may choose to trade-off some potential reduction in land value for these other priorities.
- Updated design guidance (and/or masterplanning for sites such as land west of Horton Heath) will be required to ensure that higher density development meets the council’s quality objectives. The guidance must deal in detail with the way smaller affordable housing units are interspersed with (larger) market housing. The principle of including the affordable housing in small groups (10-15 dwellings) is well established and largely uncontroversial but does require careful design from the outset, and early dialogue between applicant and the council.
- The introduction of Nationally Defined Space Standards (NDSS) may not be universally welcomed by the development industry however the standards provide a basic quality of accommodation and its introduction is supported, provided that NDSS standards are applied equally to all sites in the borough.
- Land west of Horton Heath (as other developments across the borough) provide opportunities for the council to intervene directly in the market by increasing the range of housing products being developed, especially for lower income households. The one caveat here is the on-going need to monitor new initiatives closely to ensure actual take-up meets expected demand and to include ‘exit strategies’ when trying new schemes so that rapid tenure switches can be achieved if a new product is less successful than expected.
- The council can assist in speeding up housing delivery (one of its objectives) through its planning function and as land owner, ensuring that large-scale developments are split up, to allow other housebuilders to deliver to their part of the market. This can also help with the overall scheme viability.
Mix of housing being delivered aligns better with local needs which, in turn, ensures a more sustainable and affordable housing market. Lower income households have a wider range of opportunities locally, as do older people and the need for public subsidy to sustain the level of affordable housing required is minimised.
Housing delivery speeds up and developing in Eastleigh is attractive to a wider range of providers (including the council and its partners). This means that house building rates are less prone to peaks and troughs and more resilient than elsewhere to any future market downturns.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Through a combination of clear and robust planning and housing policies (and guidance) including through the new local plan and that are implemented consistently across the borough and the direct intervention of the council in housing delivery.
In terms of research methods – i) the time taken for meaningful consultation with the development industry is very worthwhile for a project of this kind ii) the importance of securing views from across the council’s housing and planning functions (both policy and DM planners) and iii) the value of comparing housing delivery in one local authority with its neighbours, to highlight local trends.
It was also found that different housing objectives, although laudable in themselves, may cause tensions with other objectives and a balance needs to be found between all the desirable outcomes. In this instance, the push for higher density versus the desire to secure nationally described space standard (NDSS) and other quality measures (eg open space standards).
Providing clear and consistent guidance to the development industry about the type of housing that the council wants to see achieved and the standards it operates was vital.
Direct intervention in the housing market by the council provides a demonstration of the quality of development that can be achieved.
Emily Howbrook, Eastleigh Borough Council
Lin Cousins, Three Dragons