Housing & Public Realm Report

Housing and Public Realm Report - 20th March 2018

Fox Hill : Almost everyone will be aware of the recent turnaround in CURO's
approach to the redevelopment of the Fox Hill estate, prompted by the
success of so-called 'people power' led by the brave and resourceful Nola
Edwards and her team. This is a considerable achievement, and I hope that
Nola will be given the chance to brief the Committee on how the success was

Importantly, much needed Affordable and Social Housing was saved for the
community, rather than being lost in the redevelopment originally proposed by

Housing Supply:  It is interesting to note that the Government is preparing to take firm action
against Councils who fail to meet their housing build targets. The Housing
Secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced an overhaul of planning laws that will
see new rules to give Councils targets for how many homes they should build
each year. They will take into account local house prices, wages and the
number of "key workers" such as nurses, teachers and police officers in the
area. Higher targets will be set for areas with higher "unaffordability ratios". If
councils fail to deliver on the target they will be stripped of planning powers,
with independent inspectors taking over.

There are too many people in the UK today, particularly young people, who
fear that they're never going to be able to own a place of their own. It will be
interesting to see what targets are set for B&NES, and how our Council
decides to react and respond to the challenge.

We know that developers (and even our Council, in respect of North Quays,
for example) are using viability assessments to reduce the number of
affordable homes they are required to build as part of their planning consent.
The CPRE has released a report, produced in conjunction with the housing
charity, Shelter, suggests that a loop-hole in planning laws being exploited by
the use of viability assessments. The report suggests that in the 11 local
authorities reviewed, there were 79% fewer affordable homes built than those
authorities' guidelines currently suggest, simply because the developers had
argued that their profits would be less (than 20%) if they had built the required
number of affordable homes. I have made my own personal representations
(and on behalf of FoBRA) to Tim Warren, Leader of Council, deploring our
Council's use of the viability argument on North Quays. The Council are now
softening their stance. We wait to see.

Student Housing Policy : our Council does not have a Student Housing
Policy. FoBRA has long called for one to be researched, drafted, consulted,
debated and, if approved, implemented locally. Whilst we could debate here
the merits of student accommodation, on or off campus, and the relationship
with HMOs, the important aspects now are capacity and timing.
Capacity is important because it is right to question whether the city can
reasonably accommodate any more students. Two key reasons. Firstly, our
two universities currently have c17,000 UoB and c8,000 BSU = 25,000
students within a city of c85,000 residents or 29% of our population. It might
successfully be argued that is a disproportionate number. Secondly, the
simple fact is students (nor their landlords) do not pay Council Tax, yet they
use many of the facilities funded by Council Tax. This is a national issue, not
just one for Bath.

The situation is complicated by the economic value that the universities bring
to our City and to the Council income through other routes. For example,
Oxford Economics (internationally recognised research body) calculated in
January 2017 that UoB brings c£290m pa, of economic wealth to the City,
employs c3,300 people directly and up to another 2,000 people indirectly.
Timing is important, as there is currently a new Vice-Chancellor at BSU, and
within a year there will be a new Vice-Chancellor at UoB, where the University
is currently working (with the Council) on a new draft Masterplan for their
campus and other land within the University's ownership.

FoBRA has requested, and will facilitate, a meeting between senior
academics of each university and their individual directors of estates, to
discuss the merits of a Student Housing Policy, before taking the outcomes
from that meeting to the Council.

Finally, it must be remembered that most planning applications for student
housing developments off-campus are speculative submissions by property
developers, rather than the universities themselves. One of the key reasons is
profit : student housing developments permit a greater density of units/hectare
as a much lower ratio of parking spaces to units is deemed acceptable (in
planning terms) than for a private or social housing development. Again, this
is a national issue, not just one for Bath.

House Price Growth: a new report by the international agents, JLL, suggests
a period of lower house price growth than over the past 20 years. JLL
suggests average growth of less than 2.5% pa over the next 5 years. It should
'lay the foundations' for less house price volatility. My instinct suggests that
Bath could be one of the key exceptions that prove the rule – Bath and its
setting, along with its World Heritage status, will continue to drive demand and
therefore push price growth above the national average.

Barry Gilbertson - FoBRA Housing & Public Realm Lead
5th March 2018

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