The council has been called out over the lack of affordable homes being built in Reading.

It has a policy that, on sites for 10 or more houses, 30 per cent of them must be affordable.

However, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) only 16 per cent of all homes in Reading were defined as affordable in April 2021.

9.6 per cent of those are council houses, with 6.4 per cent being owned by another registered provider.

Meanwhile, 20.7 per cent of new homes built between April 2017 and March 2022 were affordable -approximately 10 per cent below the council’s target.

There are a variety of reasons why the target has not been reached.

Although the council is a housebuilder, the majority of homes are built by private developers.

READ MORE: Council invests near £30 million to build 211 homes in Reading 

The council’s  30 per cent affordable housing policy is laid out in policy H3 of the Reading Local Plan.

But that target does not apply to all developments in Reading, as developments of under 10 houses are asked by the council to pay developer contributions called Section 106 agreements to fund council house projects elsewhere.

Developers may try to remove affordable housing through viability assessments for many reason, however these attempts do not always work.

A bid by Stonegate Homes to substitute affordable homes for a financial contribution for its 26 flats plan off Oxford Road was shot down by the planning committee last month.

Reading Chronicle: The site for 26 apartments to the rear of 362 Oxford Road, Reading, on the former Battle Hospital site. Credit: Google MapsThe site for 26 apartments to the rear of 362 Oxford Road, Reading, on the former Battle Hospital site. Credit: Google Maps

The developers do deserve some praise for delivering affordable housing as well –  17.9 per cent of the new affordable homes built between 2017-2022, were built by developers, with 2.8 per cent of these being new council houses. 

The lack of affordable housing in Reading was brought up at the strategic environment, planning and transport committee meeting on Wednesday, November 17.

Councillor David McElroy (Greens, Redlands) asked the council for statistics on the current amount of affordable housing in Reading, and the proportion of new-build housing built in recent years that is classed as ‘affordable’.

The statistics above were quoted by Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley) the lead councillor for planning.

Cllr Leng said: “Whilst the Council will continue to work to maximise the contribution that all developments make towards affordable housing, there are a number of circumstances which must be taken into account for individual developments.”

He added that delivery of affordable housing is suppressed by office to flat conversions, developments that flout affordable housing requirements.

The council recently moved to prevent office to flat conversions by an Article 4 Direction made this month, which blocks ‘permitted development rights’ in selected areas of Reading.

READ MORE: Reading council move to end 'poor quality' flats plans given go ahead

In a follow up, cllr McElroy asked: “Since January 2020, only 17 four-bed homes have been advertised to council tenants, despite there being over 300 families waiting.

“I understand that the council’s target for affordable housing used to be much higher.

“If that’s true, is there a good reason the council has abandoned these families in favour of developer profits?”

The council previously had a target of 50 per cent affordable housing, but that was scrapped in 2015.

READ MORE: Councillors clash over old 50 per cent affordable housing target

Cllr Leng replied: “I don’t believe the council has abandoned anybody.

“We’ve got a 30 per cent affordable housing target. I would note that the Greens often vote and campaign against developments and we’ve just invested £30 million into a major council housebuilding project, and £12.8 million of that came from offsite contributions from developments across the town.”

The council has invested £29.6 million to deliver 211 council houses, with the hope all will be built by 2025.

But some of these are only in the planning process at the moment, such as the plan for 62 targetted homes at the Central Pool site

The initial question was asked by cllr Doug Creswell (Green, Katesgrove) but was delivered by cllr McEllroy in his absence.