On Valentine’s Day 2019, the Conservative CDC announced a portion of Kemble Community Gardens at Station Road in Kemble had been earmarked for affordable housing.

Members approved unanimously to fund the investigation of the setting up and running of a Housing Trust to supply affordable housing, in conjunction with Kemble and Ewen Parish Council making Kemble the first village in the district to set up a Community Land Trust.

Cotswold District Council owns the freehold of the site, which has been let to the Parish Council since 2012 as a community garden. Both parties agreed that a portion of the land should be developed to accommodate eight housing units, subject to planning permission. After considering several options for the residential development, the Conservative administration recommended a community-led approach through a Housing Trust to ensure units are truly affordable.

Cllr Nick Parsons, the Conservative CDC cabinet member for forward planning at the time, said: “It’s good to know that we are on the way to providing some much-needed housing for the local community in Kemble, while also ensuring that the remainder of the land parcel in Station Road will be designated for Local Green Space use.”  Cabinet members agreed that the design would need to reflect the natural green space that surrounded the potential site.

The chairman of Kemble and Ewen Parish Council said: “Encouraging progress has been achieved through working together with the District Council to settle a future for Kemble Community Gardens. “Their suggestion of a Housing Trust initiative is a further positive step which will enable the Parish Council to have a voice in the management of the affordable housing development in the best interests of our residents.

At the cabinet meeting of 8 February 2021, Cllr Lisa Spivey, LibDem cabinet member for Housing & Homelessness, unveiled plans for a zero carbon project on the Kemble site. Her brief is to deliver more Affordable/Social Housing but she has yet to deliver a single plot and appears to have shelved discussions about the Chesterton site, now known as The Steadings. Her focus is entirely upon the Kemble Community Gardens site. 

Cabinet voted for Option 5 - to develop, retain and rent.  The scheme involves a joint project with CDC as owners of the land working with a housing association to build eight carbon zero dwellings – four for social housing and four for private rent.  The housing association would take on the management on a long lease from CDC ensuring that the tenancy is such that the resident cannot apply for the Right to Buy.  The four social housing units would thus be protected from ever moving into private ownership.

The appraisals identified that a significant cross subsidy is required from private rented accommodation. On the carbon zero option a 50/50 split is needed to achieve a break-even point based on the Council borrowing to construct the units. These costs include approximately £200,000 for project management and consultant input as this is not currently available in house. There is unlikely to be any positive financial investment return as the scheme is primarily designed to be in line with the delivery of their social housing and climate priorities.

Further work is required to find a housing association or recognised partner who would be prepared to take on this small, exploratory project and deliver not only the properties but also with full green credentials.  However the financial implications, including costs for ongoing maintenance and oversight, are not costed, so in effect the cabinet has voted on a scheme, the cost of which is unknown, and a promise to employ a consultant who may or may not be able to deliver the ambition, which implies that perhaps in their excitement to be seen to be doing 'something', this item was brought to Cabinet before it is ready. 

It should also be noted that the Kemble site has been listed as an Asset of Community Value so the local community can still put together a bid to develop the site themselves, but they only have six months to do this.  

The Conservative administration has an excellent track record for building genuinely 'affordable' properties in the Cotswolds, whether as social housing, shared ownership or housing association, and which can be exempt from being sold on as holiday lets. 

The LibDems admit that they lack the skills and experience in project management to implement such projects.  So how did the previous Conservative administration manage to deliver their social and affordable housing projects? The Conservatives recognised that the skills to deliver such schemes are to be found by working with existing specialist providers such as Stonewater, Bromford, Cotswold Housing, etc., making it unnecessary to draft-in specialist consultants.

The Conservatives care very much about Social and Affordable housing and they delivered. 'Putting social housing at the heart of the solution to the housing crisis will be our priority' was the LibDem manifesto pledge. However they have yet to deliver a single plot. But that hasn't stopped them from taking credit in the press for schemes devised and delivered by the previous Conservative administration.

FAIRFORD, Keble Fields - Stonewater  40 affordable rented homes  20 two shared ownership homes.

FAIRFORD - Fairford Gate, Stonewater 52 affordable homes for rent and shared ownership

SIDDINGTON - Stonewater 23 affordable new homes, rental and shared ownership

NORTH CERNEY, Churnbridge Row - Grant Agreement with Cirencester Housing

MORETON-IN-MARSH, The Avenue – Bromford

SOUTH CERNEY – Bromford (opposed by LibDems) 50 affordable homes

The desire to provide social housing, which is also 'green to core', overrides financial probity, making the search for a ‘recognised partner’ even harder. Furthermore, where is the evidence to illustrate the current requirements for Social/Affordable Housing? The lack of take-up in some existing schemes would indicate the importance of research to deliver the right project in the right place. In 2018 the Conservative administration at CDC joined with the five other Gloucestershire LPAs approved research into a County wide Local Housing Needs Assessment, the latest  ORS Gloucestershire Local Housing Needs Assessment 2019 was released in September 2020 but lacks clarity as it would benefit from more precise data.

CDC will be searching for sites for affordable housing based on land availability, perceived need and local support.  For a rural exception site a Parish Needs Survey would still have to be carried out - exception sites within settlement boundaries can be brought forward by CDC. They are keen to avoid building or owning affordable/social housing which could be deemed permanent occupation and therefore becomes a secure tenancy enabling the resident to claim the Right to Buy and that property would then be lost to the affordable/social housing tenure.  Interestingly if there is a mix of properties on a site - private and affordable rented properties - the council is better able to prevent tenants exercising the ‘right to buy’.

Right to Buy allows gives most council tenants to buy their council home at a discount. The scheme was devised to break the ‘council tenant’ trap, to help council tenants get a leg-up onto the housing ladder. Is this hard-won scheme, which has enabled so many people to own their own home, something to be dismissed so readily?

So, the administration has demonstrated how they can 'own' social housing, thus depriving residents to their right to buy but they will find problems identifying partners to deliver schemes under such onerous terms. Housing associations have their own policies and rules too.

On 7 September 2020, cabinet papers record that ‘A detailed business case will be presented to a future Cabinet meeting.’ A detailed business case has not yet been presented, probably because it may not be possible to deliver a viable business case for low or zero carbon socially rented homes. The expense may reduce the total number of homes provided, alternatively will the extra cost be underwritten by the Council and therefore an added burden to Council Tax payers? Does this make sense if they are only providing four social rented homes?

It is understood that the main objective to the huge borrowing of £65 million that CDC have approved will be to support social housing. But the acquisition of sites is problematic: where will the land for affordable housing, let alone social housing, come from? CDC itself has a relatively small amount of property suitable for social housing and where it does own such assets there remains the long-winded planning process. The truth is, most new affordable housing has been funded by developers under their imposed obligation under the present planning policy.

Meanwhile, what about The Steadings?...

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