Providing affordable and social housing in Mendip

Delivering homes, and a lasting legacy

Mendip District Council has embarked on an ambitious development programme of affordable and social housing. It's been a long time coming, the first of its kind in Mendip for 20 years.

Looking at underutilised pockets of Council-owned land, the programme has identified a number of potential plots which could be used to provide homes for local residents who need a place to live, and thrive.

In addition to delivering homes, the scheme promises to create jobs, boost skills and the local economy, and leave a lasting legacy of social homes offering truly affordable rents for residents.

Mendip's development programme will see each site follow the normal planning application process, including full public consultation, ecological surveys and mitigation plans, as required.

Local people need local homes

The number of households registered for social rent in Mendip is 1,685. Approximately 5,000 people (based on an estimated of three people per household).

Demand for social rent is up five percent in the past five months. That's expected to rise dramatically due to COVID and as Government interventions and financial assistance, fall away. Mendip people need homes, now.

Delivering on our adopted corporate promises

This housing development programme is at the heart of the Council's Corporate Plan which was adopted in February 2020. It delivers on the aim to 'Make Mendip a fairer place'. The Corporate Plan also highlights delivery of good quality, affordable and social housing as a priority project.

The path to endorsement, so far

The Council has been transparent and has followed due process at every stage.

** It's important to note that all progress to date has been through Cabinet. This is not planning approval. It's Cabinet approval of the transfer of assets only.**

At Mendip District Council's Cabinet, July 6th, 2020, a paper went before members requesting an additional £80,000 for preparatory and exploratory works (due diligence) on five sites for the first phase, delivering approximately 160 homes. This was to be followed by further phases, bringing in all five Mendip towns, and to include modular housing was agreed unanimously by Cabinet.

Due diligence work began on phase one, using Mendip's agreed funding and the previously awarded Land Release Funds. These due diligence works will be completed shortly and numerous reports will be presented to Cabinet in December 2020.

Meanwhile, at the Council's Cabinet on 2nd November, 2020, an updated paper went before Cabinet members to agree the transfer of four sites to a Registered Provider to develop as approximately 50% social housing and 50% shared ownership. This was agreed by Cabinet. Cabinet also noted the proposed development of a fifth site, for modular housing at social rent.

Cabinet went into closed session for a short period to discuss exempt and confidential reports. Cabinet passed this resolution on the grounds that exempt information (as defined in Schedule 12A Local Government Act 1972) of the following description was likely to be disclosed: "Category 3: Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including those of the Council)".

The sites, subject to planning and public consultation

Easthill, Frome - 77 homes, adjoins the cemetery and railway (the land has no public access). Half at social rent and half as shared ownership.

Norbins Road car park, Glastonbury - six social rent homes at an under-used car park, access to St John's School will be retained.

Cemetery Lane, Street - 33 homes, half social rent, half shared ownership on land adjoining the cemetery. Hedgerows will be retained as part of the proposals.

(About half of) Cranhill Road car park, Street - 29 homes on western side (eastern side to remain as a car park - the bit that connects to the high street).

(About half of) North Parade car park, Frome - modular pilot scheme, 12 to 17 homes possible. Rear part of car park. Looking into a highly sustainable, low carbon, energy efficient modular housing solution here.

Four of the sites identified in the first phase have Land Release Funds (LRF) attached, totalling £826K. These were granted by Government in February 2018 and apply to North Parade and Easthill in Frome; Cemetery Lane in Street; and Norbins Road in Glastonbury.  (Cranhill car park, Street, does not have LRF attached). The funds are not transferable, between sites or to other sites.

The need to proceed 'at pace' - five reasons

There is an urgent, existing need for properly affordable housing in Mendip, both for social rent and for shared ownership. This is compounded by the economic and health fall-out of COVID. Housing costs, both for rental and to buy, are out of range of people in Mendip on an average salary or wage.

Land Release Funds pay for due diligence and preparations for the development of the selected land. It is non-transferable and is time sensitive. This funding was issued to us back in February 2018. Failure to deliver within the timescale could lead to the possibility of Government saying 'no' to future support for affordable and social housing initiatives in Mendip.

Registered Providers (housing associations) have time-limited funding from Government too, hence further pressures on the project. Mendip District Council does not have its own housing stock. The Council doesn't have a development company, or the resources or skills in-house to build homes. Mendip needs an established, trusted Registered Provider partner that can develop the site, and build these dwellings. 

Government support is to be directed at shared ownership homes rather than social rent. The Government announced in August a new programme for delivery of social housing from April 2021 onwards. Any housing that attracts Government grants is going to come with a restriction attached -that people in social rent are to have the ability to turn that tenure into shared ownership and ultimately to own their own property.

Local Government Reorganisation and the potential Somerset timeline to Unitary mean Mendip projects need to work at pace. Change is coming to our Council and our County. It's important these legacy projects are 'baked-in' now, before that change comes.

Call-in and consultation

Having agreed the decision to transfer four sites to a Registered Provider (RP) at Cabinet on 2nd November, 2020, the RP would have moved to public consultation as the first part of the planning process. However this is on hold as the Cabinet decision has since been 'called-in' and will now go to Scrutiny Committee where the grounds for the call-in will be heard and considered.

Mendip's next Scrutiny Committee meeting is on Monday, 16th November. Until the matter has been resolved, the decision to progress is on hold.

If the original decision is not reconsidered, and goes ahead as originally determined, online consultation for Easthill, Cranhill Road, Cemetery Lane and Norbins Road will begin imminently. In the absence and impossibility of public meetings due to COVID lockdown measures, online consultation will be backed-up by the ability to feedback through telephone calls or written submission.

In addition to the public consultation, the normal planning application process will take place.

Contacts:

All enquiries to be directed to developmentprogramme@mendip.gov.uk

Cabinet papers:

6th July, 2020  MDC Cabinet Item 11 Affordable and Social Housing Delivery Programme Icon for pdf Item 11 Social Housing Delivery Programme [107.23KB]

2nd November, 2020MDC Cabinet Item 12 Affordable and Social Housing Delivery Programme Icon for pdf Item 12 Affordable & Social Housing Delivery Programme [126.74KB]

Press Releases:

Mendip push ahead with social housing plan after 20-year gap

Social Housing scheme could bring 160 new affordable homes, with a promise of more to follow

Land Release Funds information:

https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/nearly-1m-funding-boost-bring-1233147

https://www.local.gov.uk/topics/housing-and-planning/one-public-estate/land-release-fund-announcement