The planning system and its need for widespread reforms has been the topic of much discussion of late, even more so as we await the next iteration of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Before that surfaces, one particular area that could be addressed without too much ado is the affordable housing requisite on smaller developments. Currently, local authorities tend to work on a ratio of 35%, and this is a guideline figure that was initially aimed at larger schemes in a bid to stimulate the swift delivery of housing.
However, for smaller developments, the same cannot always be applied as it runs the risk of making them unviable. If it continues, we could see numerous sites large enough for 30 to 100 homes remaining undeveloped as smaller, local developers simply cannot market over one third of the output at such a significantly reduced price.
The government is seemingly in favour of SME housebuilders, but it must back this up by educating local authorities to understand the challenges they face and offer greater flexibility and leniency when it comes to interpreting these guidelines. After all, some affordable housing is surely better than none?
Estate and letting agent Cluttons recently reported that it had successfully overturned a planning application that had initially been rejected for one of its clients, Windmill Developments Ltd, bringing a three-year battle with the local borough to an end. These scenarios are not uncommon, leaving uncertainty hanging over many planning applications for many, many months.
In this case, the application was originally refused by Enfield Borough Council, primarily due to the fact that the proportion of affordable houses would be significantly less than the 35% usually associated with much larger developments.
During the appeal process, Cluttons successfully demonstrated that 35% affordable housing would simply not be viable, and that in fact the developer’s affordable housing element was within the right guidance together with CIL provision, and that the housing met with the Local Plan requirements.
This case in particular is a prime example of a greater need for commerciality and flexibility in planning committees, especially if we want to meet affordable planning targets set by the government.
Earlier this year, reports also surfaced which suggested that the government is almost a decade behind in its affordable house building target, and it seems unlikely that this will get back on track anytime soon.
In the case of Windmill Developments Ltd, 49 much-needed homes were potentially in the pipeline on a site that is currently disused – and there are plenty more of these across the UK. However, developers continue to lose money while the sites remain undeveloped. As a consequence, councils are now paying more than they should need to in order to house those who need it, as housing lists continue to grow.
To solve this, what is essentially needed are separate frameworks for smaller and larger developers to reflect the differences in their circumstances. Planning committees need to consider the size of the developers and be more flexible, rather than enforcing a one-size-fits-all rule that was originally intended for far larger schemes.