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Court Ruling Will Help Council Provide Affordable Homes

Published on: 10 Aug, 2015
Updated on: 12 Aug, 2015

Affordable-HousingA High Court ruling will enable councils to force small-scale developers to include affordable homes into schemes they draw up, overturning new rules introduced by the government last year.

The court case could affect dozens of small-scale plans Surrey and the South East and cause delays to many developments, say leading property consultants Bruton Knowles, who have an office in Guildford.

Cllr Spooner

Cllr Paul Spooner

Although a Conservative, the lead councillor for planning at Guildford Borough Council (GBC), Paul Spooner (Ash South & Tongham), says the court ruling, overturning a Tory government policy, is good news for Guildford.

Cllr Spooner said:”I welcome this news. As our new Local Plan affordable housing policy emerges, the quashing of this restriction is a very positive decision for Guildford Borough Council.

“It means that we can pursue our draft affordable housing policy 2014 through to adoption, without worry that a [planning] inspector at examination could impose a national threshold on us.

“Our draft affordable housing policy 2014 includes a site size threshold of five homes, and is supported by local viability and need evidence and in the majority of responses to the Draft Local Plan 2014.

“Lowering the threshold and increasing the proportion to 40% is likely to result in more affordable homes delivered through market schemes.”

DCLG logoIn response to the ruling, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has said it will delete guidance related to the new threshold, introduced in November last year, and will also remove guidance on the controversial vacant building credit. The DCLG are also reported to have said that it will appeal the High Court’s decision.

In a statement, Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said that the 10-unit threshold had “recognised that the small firms which invariably build out small developments have proportionately higher costs and do not necessarily have the muscle or inclination to challenge local authority demands for affordable housing”.

He said: “The likely response is that they will avoid attempting to build on certain sites full stop and because of this there will be less homes of all description.”

One planning specialist, Paul Barton of Bruton Knowles, says anyone planning a development of 10 or under homes or less than 1,000 square metres should seek specialist advice following the ruling.

Mr Barton said: “The new rights were only recently introduced by the government enabling small scale development to go ahead without the need to have affordable housing or other tariff based contributions included in them.

The case was taken to the High Court by Reading Borough Council and its neighbour West Berkshire District Council. Both councils challenged the new government rules last week and the judge has ruled that the new policy is “incompatible” within the statutory planning framework.

“This case has major implications for small-scale developments, which are being planned especially in rural areas throughout the region.

“The Government is planning to appeal and the rules could be amended further. Developers need to look closely at the timing of their plans, whether they are able to meet the requirements for affordable housing and whether this ruling will affect plans that are already in progress.”

West Berkshire claimed that a quarter of its affordable homes were on small-scale schemes so a significant number of developments will be affected.

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Caroline Reeves

Opposition leader Cllr Caroline Reeves

Cllr Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), leader of the opposition at GBC said: “I am pleased that the challenge to this short-sighted decision by the Conservative government has been upheld.

“We need ‘affordable housing’ across the borough, provided either by housing associations or the council itself, since the high price of market housing makes this essential in the South East.

“We know that other local authorities have been able to achieve small scale projects that have included affordable housing, and developers must accept what are our local housing needs.

“This legislation, combined with the ridiculous decision to allow housing association properties to be included in the ‘right to buy’ scheme, would seriously impact on our ability to provide enough housing of the type we need, and we would continue to have a large number of people forced to live in shared accommodation.”



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