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Shortfall in number of affordable homes in Maidstone revealed

The number of affordable homes built in the Maidstone borough fell below council targets by more than 800 over eight years, it has been revealed, as tonight councillors approved a blueprint to help fix the shortfall.

Expensive homes in the villages and towns in the borough mean that many young couples and families have been "forced to move away" in search of affordable accommodation, councillors were told ahead of Maidstone Borough Council's (MBC's) Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Committee meeting.

Young couples have been "forced to move away" from villages and towns in the borough because of expensive house prices Picture: Source/Corbis.
Young couples have been "forced to move away" from villages and towns in the borough because of expensive house prices Picture: Source/Corbis.

Members voted to adopt the council's final draft of The Affordable and Local Needs Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), which was the subject of six week consultation last year.

The SPD is intended to "facilitate the delivery of truly affordable homes", provide certainty for housebuilders and registered providers about the council's expectations when it comes to affordable homes, and improve social mobility and deprivation.

The number of affordable homes built in Maidstone has fallen short of council targets STOCK IMAGE Picture: AP Construction
The number of affordable homes built in Maidstone has fallen short of council targets STOCK IMAGE Picture: AP Construction

The council's local plan, adopted in 2017, committed to producing the SDP and it will also be taken into account when planning applications are decided.

There are different types and grades of affordable housing, for instance, when rent is than lower market levels within the area, or homes are sold at a discount, with eligibility determined through local income and housing prices, or help for first time buyers.

Properties may be owned by local authorities or non-profit housing associations. Developers wanting to build market houses are often required to deliver affordable homes too.

Between 2011 and 2019, 1,744 new affordable homes were delivered in the Maidstone borough, equating to 218 units per year, which is below the target of 322 per year, as identified in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), produced in 2014.

Between 2011 and 2019, 1,744 new affordable homes were delivered in the borough Picture: Solis Images
Between 2011 and 2019, 1,744 new affordable homes were delivered in the borough Picture: Solis Images

The SDP reads: "This is a significant need for the borough and a clear justification for the council to seek affordable dwellings through new development schemes."

Explaining the shortfall, MBC said: "The Strategic Housing Market Assessment (January 2014), was arrived at independently of any consideration of supply-side issues as all Strategic Housing Market assessments are.

"The assessment therefore, did not take in to account any constraints on development, such as the availability of land, viability of development, infrastructure or environmental impacts. These factors have all played a part in the ability of the council to meet this target."

The council has commissioned a new SHMA, but the release date is not known.

The SHMA showed that over a quarter of households have an income below £20,000 with the overall average income of all households in the borough estimated to be around £31,600, with a mean income of £42,000.

Young couples have been "forced to move away" from villages and towns in the borough because of expensive house prices Picture: Skynesher
Young couples have been "forced to move away" from villages and towns in the borough because of expensive house prices Picture: Skynesher

"Across the borough it is estimated that around 43% of households are unable to access market housing on the basis of income levels," the document said.

The council plans to develop its own affordable homes, investing £30m in 200 social rented homes, to be built within five years.

Suitable development sites are being pursued.

As laid out in the approved local plan, when developers apply to build sites with more than 11 residential units, the council requires affordable homes to be built by the developer.

In the Maidstone urban area, 30% of the homes on the proposed sites should be affordable while in the countryside and larger villages it is 40%.

'The council will explore options it may have in providing help to first time buyers with initial deposits...'

In exceptional circumstances, off-site provision will be sought.

The SPD expands on what is expected of developers, stating they should not stick to the minimum space needed for affordable homes or try to escape providing affordable homes.

It went on: "Any proposals that appear to have an artificially low density in order to avoid the required thresholds for affordable housing will be scrutinised and may be refused planning permission."

The largest need in the borough is for social rent, with the discount calculated by the national average rent, earnings in the county and the value of the property.

It is "much lower" than 'affordable rents', another type of affordable housing, which must not exceed 80 per cent of gross market rent but can generate more investment is new affordable housing.

The council also "actively" supports using rural exception sites; small sites which would not normally be released for housing development, but can be used for affordable housing.

The housing must remain affordable in perpetuity and priority will be given to people who have familial or residential links with the area.

Since 2011, 63 affordable homes were delivered on rural exception sites.

As well as the provision of social rented homes, discounted open market units "would be particularly suited to helping local people get on the housing ladder".

The discount can be adjusted to suit local salary levels and will remain applicable on future sales.

"The council will explore options it may have in providing help to first time buyers with initial deposits," the document said.

Cllr Derek Mortimer, chairman of the communities, housing and environment committee said the blueprint "recognises the real world and goes some way to challenging the the housing crises were are all in" and many residents will benefit from it.

Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid, asked how the 'current economic climate' and the pandemic affected the report.

She said because of coronavirus there could be more affordable homes needed.

A councillor officer responded that updated figures for required affordable homes, which reflect the pandemic will be addressed in the Local Plan Review, currently in progress.

A vote to adopt the document was passed unanimously.

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