PLANNING board members from across the political divide are stressing the need to build affordable homes after new east Cheshire figures showed a decline.

At a strategic planning board meeting on Wednesday, officers presented the latest Cheshire East Council authority monitoring report.

It showed that a total of 372 affordable homes were built in 2016-17 – equal to just 20 per cent of all new homes built that year.

That figure was 76 fewer than in 2015-16, and 266 fewer than were built in 2014-15, and board members suggested developers were finding ways to avoid building the 30 per cent requirement of affordable homes.

Cllr Tony Dean, Conservative member for Knutsford, called for stronger scrutiny of viability assessments by CEC.

“I have heard time and time again developers coming up with a viability statement as a reason for massively reducing the 30 per cent affordable housing,” he said.

“When I was in the commercial world I would have viewed myself extremely stupid if I could not produce a viability statement of any circumstances that told you I could not afford the affordable homes.”

A council motion to make viability assessments available to the public is currently being considered after it was proposed by Cllr Nick Mannion, Labour member for Macclesfield West and Ivy.

The report also predicted that a lower proportion of east Cheshire’s population would be in the labour force by 2030 than today.

Cllr Steve Hogben, Labour member for Crewe South, suggested a lack of affordable homes would drive younger residents out of the borough – contributing to the report’s prediction.

“It’s important to address the matter of affordable housing to enable younger people to come to the borough, live and work here, or stay here probably more to the point,” he said.

“If we don’t do that, and if that working age population continues to fall, then the viability of the borough and the vibrancy of the town centres is at risk.

“Otherwise what it’s telling you in the long run, people will leave Cheshire East and go somewhere they can afford to live. And that does happen, it is happening now.

“If private sector developers will not produce it because they argue it is not viable, then it falls to the state in the long run, if we are serious about maintaining the viability of the borough.”

Adrian Fisher, head of planning strategy, added: “It absolutely is a point of concern that it is lower this year than last year, but I would look at the longer term trend, and we do know that the figure for 2017-18 will be much higher.

“Of course the forecast for 2020 is predicated on providing the right amount of housing, so this is why it is important that we do deliver the homes, otherwise we won’t achieve the economic benefit that we were intending.”