A Welsh council has responded to criticism after a woman was told she was no longer eligible for planning permission to self build her home.
Gwynedd Council has been questioned about its affordable housing policy after Nia Ferris, 33, from Llanengan, Gwynedd in Wales, and her partner Dylan, were told they could not self build in the area, subject to stringent conditions.
Local councillors and a local MP had criticised the council’s barriers blocking the couple, claiming its affordable housing policy would drive self builders away from the area.
But Gwynedd Council has defended its affordable housing policy and believes it is still fit for purpose.
A spokesperson for Gwynedd Council told Homebuilding & Renovating: “The aim of the local planning policy along with national policy is to provide affordable housing for those in genuine need and those who are eligible for affordable housing. The planning criteria include proving the need for an affordable house and that the size of the house is affordable.
“It is generally believed that the policy is fit for purpose and has contributed towards providing affordable housing for communities in Gwynedd.”
Applying for Planning Permission
Ms Ferris lives in close proximity to the village of Abersoch, which is an expensive area to live in on the Welsh coast. She said she had been priced out of buying a home in the area – the average price is around £447,000 – and had applied to build a home on land gifted to her by her family.
The couple, as well Dylan’s sister and her partner, filed for planning permission to build two affordable homes. As they planned to build on a rural village or rural exception site, the home was required to meet affordable housing guidelines.
According to TaiTeg, a register which provides information on homebuilding schemes and criteria that must be met within Gwynedd, applications for affordable homes are considered if you can’t afford to rent on the open market and/or buy a property that suits your needs.
Initially, Gwynedd Council’s planners recommended rejecting the application, but council members ultimately voted in Ms Ferris’ favour.
The application was approved subject to an affordable housing section 106 agreement with a 60% discount on the market price, if the houses were sold at a later date. This is because the three-bedroom houses were both judged to have a value of around £370,000 if they were sold on the open market, a figure 60% higher than the £142,000 upper limit for selling an affordable home.
A significant factor behind Ms Ferris’ application receiving the 106 agreement is because her plot is in a rural area.
Ms Ferris said this wasn’t overly concerning as the couple did not plan to move once the house was built. However, when Ms Ferris became a headteacher earlier this year, her salary increased, jeopardising the application.
The financial threshold for self building an affordable home in Gwynedd states that applicants must have an annual gross household income of between £16,000-£45,000.
Ms Ferris’ salary increase meant their household income rose above the £45,000 thresholdand she said that, following a review by Tai Teg into her application, the council told her this breached the criteria enabling her to build an affordable home.
Gwynedd Council said: “The applicants have been assessed by Tai Teg and one couple did not qualify for an affordable home, and will not be eligible to live in the houses if the application is approved subject to an affordable housing 106 agreement (with 60% discount).
“Tai Teg assesses applicants for affordable housing on behalf of the council against recognised criteria. To date the applicant has not signed a relevant 106 agreement which means that the planning permission has not been issued.”
Criticism of the Council
Local councillor John Brynmor Hughes, who represents Llanengan on Gwynedd Council, was among the vocal critics of the policy. He believes the current policy will drive self builders, looking to build under the affordable housing scheme, away from the area.
“Here, where we have local Welsh speaking couples who want to remain in the village and have the land and expertise to build a house of their own, all these barriers are being thrown in their path.”
Local MP Liz Saville Roberts urged Gwynedd Council to approve their bid, saying: “If these local people – who have the financial means and the skills to build two houses for themselves – are not worthy of affordable housing in accordance with Gwynedd’s policy, there is something wrong with the interpretation of the policy.”
But Gwynedd Council has defended the decision. “Securing affordable housing that offers local residents the opportunity to own their own homes is one of the Council’s top priorities.
“The site in question is in a rural area and is on the edge of Llanengan’s cluster of houses. The location of the application did not meet policy requirements, and the size of the houses did not reflect the size of affordable housing.”
Does the Definition of Affordable Housing Need to Change?
Ultimately, it is up to Gwynedd Council whether it deems a home to meet affordable housing criteria. But the house prices in the area, which restrict Ms Ferris and her partner from buying a home, raise a problematic question: should Gwynedd Council’s definition of affordable housing change?
Earlier this year the West Midlands Combined Authority became the first local government authority to redefine affordable housing based on salary, which it hopes will increase the number of affordable homes developed in the region.
Gwynedd Council’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for affordable housing states: “Planning applications for self build affordable housing under the Rural Villages or Rural Exception Sites policy basis must be based on genuine proven need for such housing and should not be submitted on a purely speculative basis.”
It appears unlikely that the criticism of Gwynedd Council will amount to policy change, but this standoff is emblematic of the problems facing affordable housing in the UK.
As Ms Ferris and her partner had a gross household income too high to meet this criteria, they have been deemed ineligible. Ms Ferris has not yet signed a relevant 106 agreement from Gwynedd Council to build her planned home on her plot.