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Affordable housing - surely a good thing?

Affordable housing for local people. Isn't that just like 'motherhood and apple pie' - a universally GOOD THING?

Well, it's a touchy subject this, and not one that everyone is likely to agree on. It's not our intention to get deep into the politics of capitalism and its alternatives here, merely to give you some food for thought in the context of building new housing developments on Gower.

First, what is 'affordable housing'? While we all have a general idea - probably no electric gates, for example - it's worth noting that there's no precise or legal definition. It's not like saying 'single storey' housing - everyone understands what this means and there's little wiggle room if you subsequently build a two storey house. In contrast, 'affordable' is no more than an opinion. If you're a multi-millionare, a 750,000 house is very affordable, but if you're a beggar, a 10,000 house is out of reach. What are we getting at here? Well, if a commercial developer puts in an outline planning application for, in their words, an "affordable housing development" and gets permission, who's to stop them putting up large 'executive' houses? Just imagine the exchange:

planner: "You said they would be affordable!"

developer: "But they are affordable. Well paid executives like me can easily afford them!"

Okay, okay, we're maybe being a bit pedantic here. But the point we're making is that an outline application that says "affordable housing" may as well say "nice housing" - it's just a subjective opinion that holds no water and cannot be enforced.

Point to remember: commercial developers are interested in profit, not in helping local people. If they think that putting the word "affordable" onto a planning application will give it a better chance of success, they'll try it.

What if, for the sake of argument, 'affordable' is properly defined and means what we generally understand it to mean. Surely then that would be OK? Well, think about this. Houses on Gower are expensive because:

  • Gower is a beautiful and special place
  • Gower is small, so there are more people wanting to live there than there are houses

Unless we can make Gower bigger (we can't, unfortunately), any new houses built there will immediately have their prices pushed up unrealistically high by the supply/demand imbalance. (There is a way around this - place restrictions on who developers can sell their houses to, specifying that they must be local people. And see the commercial developers run a mile...) Of course, we could kill two birds with one stone. Build high density housing over all of Gower's green spaces. Bingo! Loads of houses, which are really cheap because no-one wants to live in the concrete jungle that Gower has become. Nice plan...

Yes, there can be a happy compromise. Planning policy acknowledges this and makes provision for affordable developments to be built where needed. Not-for-profit developers can work with communities to build housing that is sustainable, low impact, well designed and genuinely as affordable as possible. While Keep Gower Green opposes most if not all large scale development on Gower for reasons outlined above, it certainly believes that proper low impact affordable housing should be given precedence over 'executive' and luxury developments whose only purpose is to maximise the profit of the developer.

So you may or may not agree with our views on affordable housing, but hopefully you now at least understand why we hold them. Our priority is keeping Gower special, and resisting all major development is the only realistic way we can see of doing that.