States' role in building homes needs clarity

INITIAL public reaction to progress on States property rationalisation, and particularly the development of more housing for islanders around the Castel Hospital site, has centred on whether the States is intending to build the right kind of homes there.

Up to 90 three, four and five-bed homes are being suggested for the fields surrounding the hospital site, while the States considers the future of the 18th century former ‘country hospital’ itself. But claims that the States is pandering to the wealthy end of the market are surely widely of the mark.

Official reports show that if the Guernsey market needs more houses, as it surely does, then a mix is important. Much of the market activity currently lined up by the States – including Belgrave and Kenilworth Vineries – are intended for Guernsey Housing Association developments, offering a mix of partial ownership, social rental housing and key worker housing.

A housing market needs survey carried out by KPMG for the States in 2017 showed that rental units had been responsible for some 75% of new developments since the turn of that decade.

But the waiting lists for social and affordable housing are so large that even this significant push for housebuilding from the States won’t sate that demand.

That same report suggested some 700-1,000 new homes should be built between 2014 and 2021 – of which it was suggested that some 60% would need to be one and two-bedroom homes. The island’s most common property, meanwhile, remains the three-bedroom house. So is a mix right or wrong? And if it is right, should it be the States getting involved in that sector of the market?

It’s clear that some – Deputy Peter Roffey among them – don’t believe the States has a place in building family homes for sale. They might be right. It’s a venture the States hasn’t dabbled in for 30 years, since Clos des Pecqueries in the 1990s. Built as affordable housing, one would now cost you some £400,000-plus.

It is clear that P&R wants to get on with building all types of homes. But maybe some clear agreement on the role of the state in this sector would be useful.

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