Council to set up homes developer

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Has RDC found its 'magic money tree'?

Rother District Council (RDC) has commited to build 1,000 homes between 2020 and 2035, after it unveiled a plan to set up a housing development offshoot in a bid to meet its target for new homes.

At this stage, the impact on Rye and its surrounding East Sussex parishes is unclear, although there is a reference to “small rural areas” being developed. The main development will focus on land at Blackfriars in Battle (220 homes), north and north-east Bexhill, Northeye and the Hastings fringes.

According to the Council’s Cabinet minutes, RDC will establish a stand-alone Local Housing Company (LHC) to run the project, as a way of distancing itself from the operational side of development. The LHC would also be responsible for raising the estimated £200 million cost (local authorities themselves are barred from borrowing to build houses. RDC’s contribution would be around £30,000 set up costs for the new company). However, this would seem to open up a situation where the Council’s developer will be seeking planning permission from RDC’s own planning department.

In many ways, this is an extraordinary initiative for the Council to take, given that it owns no houses at present. The minutes reveal the strategy will allow RDC to “directly intervene in the housing market, as a developer to accelerate housing delivery and increase overall housing supply”.

Rother’s original housing target was 335 dwellings a year from 2011 to 2028, but to date only an average of 198 houses a year have been built. This has left RDC needing to deliver 458 homes a year between now and 2028. Without a five-year supply of housing land in place, as has been the situation in Rother, it has proved much easier for commercial developers to build on sites that would hitherto have proved out of bounds, frequently sparking opposition from local residents.

RDC has recommended that its housing project will seek to deliver “mixed tenure developments”, which one presumes would include houses sold on the open market, affordable homes and probably Council owned stock for rent.

While the Council claims its main goal is to increase the district’s housing supply, the housing development programme has presumably also been designed to inject much-need revenue into RDC’s coffers. It is unclear whether or when the venture’s profit projections will be made public, but returns for well-managed development are known to be high, which may lead one to suspect that the Council believes it may have discovered its own “magic money tree”.

Initially, RDC will look into the board structures and housing companies set up by other councils before launching its own development company.

Planning and housing development in Rother is a complex and highly sensitive issue, and one that creates a huge impact on local people and their quality of life. While new homes may be needed, many people have criticised the arbitrary number of houses imposed on the area by government and argue that the south-east of the UK is already overcrowded.

Rye News has previously reported on development projects in Rye, including the controversial plan to approve 63 homes on the old Lower School site without affordable housing provision. This project involves a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) of £783,000 being paid to RDC.

As Rye has a Neighbourhood Plan, the town can claim 25% of this sum but RDC retains 5% to cover administration costs. This appears to indicate that Rye Town Council will receive £156,600 to spend on infrastructure projects.

Image Credits: David Worwood .

1 COMMENT

  1. Development – dwellings and business premises – in Rye Parish is governed by the Rye Neighbourhood Plan which, since adoption in mid 2019, has statutory status. The Plan embraces housing targets which are part of the overall Rother DC targets. In addition to its (planning) Core Strategy, Rother is working to have adopted a Development and Site Assessment (DaSA) covering all the sites across the District which it wants to see developed. This assessment takes full account of the sites already identified in Neighbourhood Plans. Therefore the focus of this opinion is on those parts of Rother, particularly rural areas, where there are no Neighbourhood Plans. This underlines the importance of communities (neighbourhoods) having a plan so that development can be influenced locally and not dictated by Bexhill or indeed developers.

    Rye Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group

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