Priced out in Uckfield – ‘affordable’ is simply not affordable for many

Government housing minister Robert Jenrick is being told many Uckfield people are priced out of owning a home – and will even struggle to rent.

Research by Uckfield town councillor Angie Smith laid bare the struggle people are having.

Her report has led the town council to call for more smaller, cheaper, properties to keep young workers and local residents in the Uckfield area.

Councillors are frustrated by the current situation and are sending all the details to Mr Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

At the same time, Wealden District Council has told the Government quite bluntly why “affordable” housing is not affordable in the South East.

Wealden blames ever increasing land values

Cllr Smith researched salaries, house prices, and rents data, for the report which was widely praised by fellow councillors who also said the details should be passed to Wealden council and neighbouring parishes.

How much people are earning

Cllr Smith’s figures showed:

  • UK average salary: £37,400
  • Wealden average salary: £30,800
  • An average couple’s earnings in Wealden are £50,284 per year based on the average earnings of a man and a woman combined.

The cost of a new home

Cllr Smith’s report applied average earnings to the cost of homes, known as the price-to-income ratios which is calculated by dividing property prices by annual earnings.

In Wealden in 2019:

  • The house prices-to-earnings ratio was 9.83 based on average earnings and 11.83 in the lowest quartile of earners.
  • Across England as a whole, the figures were 7.83 and 7.87 respectively.

The councillor’s report continued:

Cllr Angie Smith

“The cheapest property at Ridgewood Place (£385,000) would cost £1,544 per month for a 25-year mortgage (based on mortgage with 10% deposit). 

“It is generally accepted that to be affordable, payment for housing should take up no more than one-third of family income. 

“This would entail a monthly household income of £4,632 for the household, or a yearly take home salary of £55,584 (gross salary of £74,112).

“An average couple’s earnings in Wealden are £50,284 pa gross, leaving a £24,112 shortfall on earnings per annum.

“According to Money Saving Expert, average loan for a mortgage is 4.5 times annual salary…£226,278 maximum borrowing (£251,420 maximum property price with 10% deposit).

“Searching Right Move found 42 properties in Uckfield that a borrower with the average salary and 10% deposit could afford (on August 7, 2020). 

“Of these 27 were retirement properties.

Uckfield wages could be lower than average

“However, residents of Uckfield who work in the local area in local shops and business could earn substantially less than the average described above. 

“On average, a worker employed in a business within 25 miles of Uckfield could expect to earn an average of £25,189 (based on the average starting salary of 20 jobs sampled on Indeed). 

“This is likely to mean that increasingly houses in Uckfield are going to be sold to those who can work in London, where they can command higher salaries, rather than the people we need for our local business.”

What about renting?

Cllr Smith’s report said monthly rents were, on average £900 per month in Wealden. The rents break down as: 

  • Studio £550
  • 1 bed £695
  • 2 bed £850
  • 3 bed £1,075
  • 4 bed + £1,563

Cllr Smith wrote: “Looking at the ‘average’ Wealden couple detailed above, earning £50,284 gross, this means their take home pay is £3,143 per month. 

“For this couple, the average rented property is within their means, although a three-bed would take up more than the one-third of their salary deemed affordable – and a four bed or larger quite substantially more.

Studio flat

“For an employee in a local business earning the average of £25,189, their take home salary would be £1,574 per month, meaning that if they were renting as a single person, the largest property they could afford would be a studio flat.”

During a debate on the report, councillors acknowledged that the definition of affordable housing had broadened over the years to include not just social rented properties, but shared ownership and alternative schemes intended for low-income families. 

Affordability ratio

Members felt that despite the 35% affordability ratio set by Wealden District Council on new build housing developments, that this ambition was rarely achieved. 

It was also clarified by councillors at the meeting that any new build developments with under 50 dwellings were not required to provide affordable housing.

Wealden’s response to Government

Wealden District Council has responded to a Government consultation on planning.

Part of the letter said a high number of local authorities in South East England have had continuing worsening trends in affordability over the past ten years, including all in East Sussex with Wealden no exception. 

Wealden warned that individual improvements to housing land supply in some council areas may not lead to improvements in affordability in the overall region, particularly if neighbouring councils were constrained or are unable to provide the necessary housing to meet their full housing requirements.

Moot point

“In Wealden, a rural district with modest market towns, we currently have over 6,000 homes granted planning permission. 

“Whether this will be enough to satisfy any new requirement figure is moot, if developers are not willing to build at that rate. 

“Under our current system, rapid build out rates only reduce developer profitability and not, regrettably see land values reduce. 

“Simply granting ever more homes planning permission does not ensure that house prices become more affordable, or indeed that more homes get built,” the letter states.

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