Much has been said and written about the planning system needing widespread reforms, even more so as we await the next iteration of the NPPF.
One area in particular that could be addressed fairly simply is the affordable housing requisite on smaller developments. Local authorities in the main are currently working on a 35% ratio, a guideline figure that was initially brought in for large schemes to support the delivery of housing.
For smaller developments however, the same hardline approach simply cannot be uniformly taken; otherwise we run the risk of numerous sites of 30 to 100 homes sitting undeveloped because it is simply not viable for smaller or local developers to provide more than a third of the units at a much reduced price.
With the government seemingly in favour of SME housebuilders, surely they can educate local authorities on interpreting guidelines and empowering them to be more flexible and commercial in such cases. After all, some affordable housing (and housing overall) being delivered must be better than none and a vacant town centre site going to waste?
This month, Cluttons successfully overturned a rejected planning application for one of our clients, Windmill Developments, bringing a three-year battle with the local borough to an end. Unfortunately, these scenarios aren’t uncommon, with many planning applications sitting in limbo, without any real timeframe for when they will be completed.
In this case, Enfield Borough Council originally refused the application, primarily because there would not be 35% provision for affordable houses – usually associated with much larger-scale 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.
Back in January, it had been reported that the government had missed its affordable housebuilding target by almost a decade, and now with the aim of increasing this to 300,000 new-builds each year, it seems hard to believe that this will be met.
For smaller developers, like Windmill Developments, they would have brought 49 much-needed homes to the area they were working in, on a site that is currently sitting as disused. This is the case for many sites across the UK, with hundreds or even thousands of these sites, that could have the potential to bring forward homes that could meet the set targets. However, currently, these sites are just sitting vacant and losing developers even more money.
With housing lists only getting longer, councils are paying over the odds for temporary accommodation. But the fact of the matter is that if developments cannot be developed due to such deadlocks, then no affordable housing will be delivered.
It is important for there to be a framework in place that differentiates between smaller and larger developers, as they simply cannot achieve the same targets. Planning committees need to consider the size of the developers and be more flexible, rather than enforcing the same rule that was originally put in place for large several-phased schemes being built by large developers.
Giles Sutcliffe is head of affordable housing at Cluttons