Deputy Paul Luxon, Tony Rowbotham of Montagu Evans, Professor Christine Whitehead OBE and Ogier’s Claire Smith formed the panel for yesterday’s debate on ways to revive the property market in Guernsey. Professor Whitehead, economics professor at the London School of Economics and former Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research, gave the keynote speech setting out her thoughts on Guernsey’s housing waiting lists, housing targets and the proposals in the Island Development Plan to secure affordable housing on private housing development sites via planning covenants.
Professor Whitehead noted that Guernsey has the lowest housing needs waiting list of any mainland British local authority, but cautioned against relying solely on the Guernsey Housing Association or any one tool, to meet the future housing needs of the Island, advocating instead ‘a basket of measures’. This approach she suggested, should include detailed consideration of the advantages and disadvantages in the Guernsey context of Help to Buy, Right to Buy, ‘Bank of Guernsey’ mortgage guarantees and other first time buyer incentives.
Deputy Luxon cautioned against potential ‘unforeseen consequences’ of continuing to apply housing policies conceived in a rising market now that Guernsey’s housing market is depressed and called on Treasury & Resources to commit to considering measures to revive the property market in Guernsey. Deputy Gavin St Pier responded from the audience confirming that a number of these measures are already being considered by Treasury & Resources.
Claire Smith expressed concerns that draft Island Development Plan Policy GP11 which proposes compulsory land transfers of between 20% – 30% for residential development sites as small as 5 dwellings may be too onerous in a depressed housing market and would need to be applied flexibly in order for it to work. In Claire’s view, the use of planning covenants as currently envisaged under the draft Island Development Plan may well prove problematic for the future in circumstances where in Guernsey there is no clear legal guidance on viability for affordable development, which will lead to lengthy legal negotiations and delays in securing planning permissions.
Tony Rowbotham observed that the proposed social housing land transfers will only benefit the Guernsey Housing Association ‘one track’ Partial Ownership approach which has no ability to help the market and staircase into whole ownership, by being capped at 80%.
The event was very well attended and the breadth of issues covered by the panel and extensive questions raised by the audience, highlights that there is no one simple solution to this problem.