MORE than 600 new affordable homes could be delivered in the New Forest by 2026, under plans by the district council to ease the area’s housing shortage.
The authority will look to use rental income and borrow where necessary to fund the push which will involve building and purchasing properties for social and affordable rent, as well as shared ownership.
The strategy was backed by the ruling Conservative cabinet on Wednesday before it goes for final approval by the full council later.
It came as Lloyds Bank revealed the New Forest had topped the table of national parks for property prices for the second year with an average of nearly £662,000 – more than double the Hampshire average.
There are currently about 3,300 people on the housing waiting list in the New Forest. Council figures show 115 were accepted as homeless in 2017/18 when there were seven rough sleepers.
The provision is part of an overarching strategy which includes measures for rough sleeping, and NFDC’s keystone Local Plan containing draft policies to guide construction of 10,500 homes by 2036, of which hundreds will be on greenbelt land.
If the Local Plan gets the go-ahead from a government inspector next year, new rules will require 50% affordable housing for eligible developments outside Totton and the Waterside where the proportion will be 35%.
The strategy was presented to NFDC’s ruling cabinet on Wednesday by Cllr Jill Cleary, the member for housing services.
Cllr Cleary said the target of 600 affordable homes was “ambitious” but added: “With government backing, we plan to do even more than this number and we are actively in dialogue with the government about this at the present time.”
Investment recently became easier after the government removed the cap on councils borrowing for housebuilding.
A cabinet report said the district had a “very limited” supply of land suitable for affordable housing, so NFDC would have to develop its own land and watch out for other building opportunities.
The extra activity will require three new officers at a cost of about £143,000, it said.
The report added: “The housing strategy is for the benefit of all the council’s residents and will have a positive impact by increasing the availability of housing and affordable housing within the council’s district.”
Cllr Cleary also set out recommendations by a task group of councillors for tackling homelessness in the district, and a 17-page strategy to target rough sleeping which will now go out for public consultation after it was backed by the cabinet.
NFDC is now required under new laws to amend existing homelessness policies to specifically address rough sleeping, as part of a government drive to end the problem nationwide by 2027.
As well as seeking to provide more homes generally, actions include employing three extra homelessness advisors, new reporting systems, and procuring fresh temporary accommodation.
Cllr Cleary said: “I have made it my passion to improve the outcomes for homeless families and get them back on their feet and this strategy will enable this to happen.”
As reported in the A&T, Hampshire County Council recently cut £1.8m from its £2.4m homelessness services budget despite warnings by NFDC that it could make crime worse.
A shake-up of NFDC’s housing waiting list policy was another measure approved by the cabinet for public consultation.
A report said the current register did not properly reflect new legislation or the needs of households, who can wait up to a decade for a home. On average 300 properties a year become free.
Currently there are four bands with 3,120 households in the third lowest “priority” category. The top “high priority (urgent)” category has 24.
The four replacement bands range from the most serious “emergency need” to the least “lower need”. Considerations include health, risk of violence, state of current housing and overcrowding.
Applicants will be blocked from the housing register if they are assessed as having the financial means to resolve their own housing situation.
Cllr Cleary said: “I have seen first-hand how vulnerable households are affected by the waiting times for our housing and I firmly believe it is the right time to make these changes to our allocations policy to make the best use of our housing stock and to recognise real housing need in our district.”