Column: Plenty of land to satisfy need for new homes in Sheffield

Sheffield housing.
Sheffield housing.

A feature in the Sheffield Telegraph about the difficulties for families ‘priced out from buying in parts of our city’ (October 27) got some of the problems right, but mostly got the reasons wrong.

For example, Joanne Bloor is quoted saying the lack of supply of property was fuelling the demand. It isn’t – what’s fuelling demand is the rising number of families looking for affordable homes in any part of the city, not just in the ultra-desirable south-west.

A few paragraphs on, there was a mention of the Taptonville Road development in Crookes – where the developer has apparently managed to wriggle out of their obligations to provide affordable homes because, they said, ‘building affordable houses would harm the project’s viability’. This is despite city planning policy requiring all such major developments to include a proportion of affordable homes – set at 30 per cent in the south-west.

So why is the city losing out? Two reasons, possibly.

Government policy leans over backwards to favour developers and gives them all sorts of excuses to avoid their obligations. Chief among these is the Viability Appraisal, which allows developers to show that providing such homes, or making a cash contribution, would eat into their profits. A second reason might be the strange reluctance of Sheffield Council to challenge this practice, despite having reports from the District Valuer, who offers an independent service to check the reliability of these appraisals.

Behind all this is yet another question – why do we have such a shortage of homes? Estate agent Stuart Goff’s answer was ‘you can’t make more land, and the population is rising. So prices are bound to keep increasing’. But developers are sitting on vast numbers of empty plots, many with planning permission already granted. Government policy is to help people buy more easily. But that’s of little use if the houses aren’t there, and even less if family income is not enough to even live reasonably, never mind start saving for a deposit. Perhaps we need a government policy that forces developers to build on that land, or hand it over to others who might.

We also need proper planning powers for councils, to get developers to build – or fund – truly affordable homes.