Creating affordable housing for Winchester’s key workers

Liveblogged notes from a WinchBiz session on creating affordable housing in Winchester. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be updated.

Housing is infrastructure. Without the housing to support new key workers, our services are going to structure. More affordable housing would even ease the transport problems, as fewer people would be commuting in.

But what is classed as affordable? Police officers are reasonably well paid? The government definition of affordable housing is 80% of the market rate – which is still not affordable in Winchester. The ration to average earning to average house price in Winchester is 10 – nearly double the average in the rest of the country. So we need more aggressive schemes like shared ownership, and so on. There are plenty of jobs that aren’t defined as “key workers” but which perform civic functions without which we’d grind to a halt.

Creative solutions are being looked at – like modular housing in warehousing spaces. It requires creativity.

Is this conversation really about key workers?

Our challenge isn’t really about key workers at all – many of them are paid well enough to buy in Eastleigh and commute in, rather than rent here. What we actually need is affordable housing for a whole range of people. There is a more aggressive council house building programme. But the cap on borrowing is restricting that.

Some councils are setting up arm’s length companies to develop housing – but there is an associate risk, and different councils have different appetites for that.

All local plans have to be evidence-based, so any council response would need evidence that the local key worker institutions can’t recruit. Could reducing commuting load be an acceptable target?

There’s only limited evidence that all those evidence-based decision making works that well. And, in fact, there’s plenty of evidence that WInchester has been really good at doing bugger all for 25 years. At least that means we haven’t made the big mistakes made by others because of that thinking.

A better class of NIMBY

Many communities object development, because it feels like it’s dunked on them, and it’s not for them. Kings Worthy did well by effectively letting the local community select the site and developer. Winchester has a lot of very articulate residents who are usually against development. When the campaign gets going, the political process does not encourage local politicians to be brave in their decision making. There are voices. In support – but they need too be drawn out. We need a community approach, not an interest group approach.

Winchester is full of smug, successful people who are very good at insulating themselves, said one attendee. It featured in the book Crap Towns for the arrogant complacency of its population.

There’s actually a real lifecycle problem with houses. There’s nowhere for people to downsize to for example. If there was, it would free up property thought out the chain.

Outside Winchester

Let’s not forget the rest of the district. There’s a real need to think about the surrounding infrastructure, like schools catchment. It’s difficult to get developers to commit to building schools. You can make the routes bus accessible, but will the bus companies actually service them? This is a particular problem with smaller communities, because your don’t have the critical mass to get the resources. Perhaps the offering needs to be pitched to commutes like that: would you like small developments, and no infrastructure, or a big development with all the infrastructure?

Do developers hold too much power in the equation? Less so than in the past, with more powers for councils to force developers to open their books when they claim they can’t afford a percentage of affordable housing.

Equally, you need something of a carrot and stick approach with communities: tell then that they’re getting 100 houses, but ask them where they want them.

Everyone wants Winchester to be a place where people want to live – but it’s managing the process to support that is hard. Our public services are critical to our communities and our businesses. We all need nurses in the hospital, we all need digital services and transport. We need to help those people live here.