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Council bid to build more low-cost housing

Unable to rent or buy a house in Brighton and Hove, Pete and Carol Heritage have moved to Hereford.

With rent arrears building up over four years, Carol has been declared bankrupt with landlords now reluctant to offer her a property.

Seven years ago the couple and their three children moved from a house in the city centre to a cheaper home in Portslade.

Four years later they moved further west, to Southwick, in the hope of finding an even better deal.

Despite their efforts, they were evicted last month because they could not afford basic living costs.

The Heritage family are the latest casualties of the housing boom. With developers keen to sell homes at a premium, low-income families are not on their target list of buyers.

Brighton and Hove City Council has taken radical steps to prevent developers ignoring the needs of the less well off.

It wants 40 per cent of new developments of more than 10 homes to be low cost.

The controversial policy is being considered for inclusion in the city's Local Plan, which was the subject of a recent public inquiry.

If planning inspectors agree for the policy to be included in the Local Plan, the city will be among the first in the UK to supersede national policy.

Existing Government rules stipulate low-cost housing should only be created in developments of 25 homes or more.

In six planning appeals since June 2001, the Government's advice has beaten the council's emerging policy.

The most recent defeat, concerning flats in Salisbury Road, Hove, has left the council with a legal bill expected to run into thousands of pounds.

Only if the public inquiry allows the policy to be adopted in the Local Plan will the council be able to force developers to play ball.

But with a decision not expected until January, planners and councillors are left in limbo with little control over the amount of low-cost housing being built.

On at least one occasion, however, the council has beaten off an appeal.

In February last year, a planning inspector agreed low-cost housing should be included as part of the conversion of Wish House in Wish Road, Hove, into 15 flats.

Councillor Jack Hazelgrove, former chairman of the council's housing management sub-committee, said Brighton needed a policy distinct from other cities because of its unique housing problems.

He said: "The policy reflects the level of housing need in the city. Elsewhere, there is ample social housing and in some places there is even a surplus.

"House prices in the South-East are such that many people cannot afford to buy and there is a shortage of low-cost rented accommodation."

Planning chairman Councillor Roy Pennington said: "We recognise the desperate housing need in Brighton and Hove and are prepared to fight for this policy to provide good quality, low-cost homes for local people."

Mr and Mrs Heritage think the policy is a brave step.

Mr Heritage, 41, was forced to quit as a doorman at the Ocean Rooms nightclub because of illness.

The lack of income and insufficient housing benefit left the family falling further behind with rent payments.

He said: "Our lives are pretty awful at the moment. We are living miles away from our friends and all we want to do is move back to Brighton.

"The council is right to make more new houses in the city low cost. It is crazy that we cannot live in the place we call home because there are just no houses available to suit us."

The council says most developers comply with the request for low-cost housing. Last month, Wadefield agreed to create 40 per cent low-cost flats on the site of the White Admiral pub in Bevendean. But not all agree with the policy.

Among them is Gleeson Classic Homes, which won its appeal against the council to build 14 flats in Salisbury Road, Hove, in March.

Construction director Ben Coster said: "Nobody wants to create social ghettos but if you are building in a very affluent area, well-off residents are not going to want to have people of a different social class on the doorstep.

"We appreciate there is a need for low-cost housing in Brighton and Hove but some areas are just not suited to that type of accommodation.

"If the council pursues this policy, it will reduce the development potential of Brighton and Hove.

"The housing situation will only get worse because developers will avoid the city."

Legally, the nearer the council gets to adopting the Local Plan, the greater the weight placed on the policies within it.

The Brighton Borough Plan and Hove Borough Plans, adopted in 1995 before the two areas became a city, offer conflicting advice on low-cost housing.

The Hove plan seeks low-cost housing on all sites, whereas the Brighton plan lists certain sites. Both plans predate the Government rule.

Although not officially adopted, planners use the emerging plan in making decisions as it is more relevant to the needs of the city.

Notably, the Greater London Authority's structure plan contains a draft policy of making 50 per cent of new homes low cost.

Like Brighton and Hove, London suffers from an abundance of well-off homes and few cheaper properties.

Also like Brighton and Hove, the London policy has yet to be rubber stamped.

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