Labour-run Council to boost affordable homes development

Thousands of affordable homes are in the pipeline for construction in Oxford over the next few years, with Oxford City Council trebling its direct contribution to new build through its new Housing Company.

Labour councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, Oxford City Council, said: “It is time Government recognises the urgent need for genuinely affordable housing for the salary levels that are typical of middle professionals in cities like Oxford. An average house price of £450,000 is simply out of reach for purchase by people typically earning £30-40,000 a year. The plans we are unveiling today will help to address that. However, radical changes in land acquisition policies are essential along with the removal of the borrowing cap on local authorities.

“Our city – our universities, hospitals, shops and manufacturers all have workers who need to be able to afford to settle down in the area. We’re doing what we can, and this is helped where our major institutions and biggest employers who also own housing land join us in finding shared solutions, including for their own staff.

“We don’t have enough spare land in the city to build all the homes we need, so a big part of the solution is the cooperation of our neighbouring areas in supporting house building in their areas. Of the 30,000 new homes we know Oxford needs over the coming years, 8,000 of those can be built in the city, with the rest in neighbouring areas.”

A minimum of 2050 affordable homes are targeted to be built in the city between the current financial year and 2022/23, 530 of which will be delivered by the council-owned Oxford Housing Company Limited (OHCL). Current and planned developments include Barton Park, Oxpens, Northern Gateway, Blackbird Leys district centre, and Littlemore Park, among others.

Over the past four years, the council spent £17 million delivering a range of affordable homes including social rented, affordable rented and shared ownership homes. However, the next four years (to 2021/22) will see a significant rise in spending to £64 million as the council steps up its ambition to provide more affordable housing to meet the city’s needs.

Beyond 2022/23, OHCL is already planning the delivery of a further 500 affordable homes as part of regeneration schemes in the city. Utilising the Council’s ability to borrow, the establishment of the housing company will give the Council greater flexibility in delivering affordable homes on difficult sites. 

Key employment sectors in Oxford are already facing significant challenges in recruiting and retaining staff as a result of the lack of access to and availability of affordable housing. The high house prices and rents mean that intermediate housing options such as the government’s ‘Starter Homes’ would still be out of reach for many key workers.

The new Local Plan proposes to support some of the major employers, in Oxford - such as the universities, BMW and the NHS - to meet their employees needs by allowing staff housing schemes on land they own with a significantly reduced, or zero element of social rent housing required. The council would prefer that such schemes prioritise homes for rent, such as affordable rent, and ensure that homes remain affordable in perpetuity.

More affordable housing is expected to be delivered by private developers in line with the council’s 50 per cent affordable homes policy for all new housing developments of more than 10 units. This is one of the more stretching targets among UK local authorities.