“We are the Builders”: Re-defining Affordable Housing and Permission in Principle

15 October, 2015
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

At the Conservative Party Conference the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced a “dramatic shift” in planning rules to enable the Government’s proposed Starter Homes to be re-classified as Affordable Housing under section 106 agreements.


The new concept of Starter Homes was outlined in the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the last general election. They have pledged to build 200,000 Starter Homes across the next five years at a 20 per cent discount, which are available for first-time buyers under the age of 40. The manifesto said that these homes will be built on brownfield sites and will be exempt from section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy (‘CIL’) liability.


The current definition of Affordable Housing pursuant to the National Planning Policy Framework (‘NPPF’) includes social rented housing, affordable rented housing and intermediate housing (which includes shared ownership and other low cost homes for sale or intermediate rent).


The announced reform allows greater flexibility in the way developers can deliver affordable housing on site by offering a mix of rented housing and starter homes for sale (or one or the other) and could make more sites viable. However, arguably it does not represent a significant change in policy but rather a change in the emphasis, with local authorities previously preferring affordable homes for rent as part of the affordable housing provision now being driven to accepting more low cost homes for sale.


Registered providers of affordable housing are seen to be under increasing pressure from the Government. The Chancellor, George Osborne, has been critical of Registered Providers of affordable housing, claiming they have not been building enough new affordable homes. These new reforms will incentivise developers to build and sell more Starter Homes on their sites, which may result in less truly affordable housing being built by registered providers.


Further details on the Government’s plan to grant automatic planning permission for housing on brownfield sites have been announced with the publishing of the Housing and Planning Bill. The Bill enables the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to direct local authorities to compile and maintain registers of particular types of land within their jurisdiction, under terms defined by the Secretary of State. The Bill also provides that development orders granting the new “permission in principle” status can be drawn up even if the development plan has not yet been prepared, although they would not come into force until the plan is adopted. Technical details consent will still need to be sought from the local authority but these will focus on the type of housing and the infrastructure needed to support the development, etc. rather than the principle of development.


It is understood that permission in principle will be given solely to brownfield sites for residential development. If this were extended beyond brownfield land, which appears possible, it would represent a dramatic change to the planning system.


Even though these reforms are being fleshed out, many details are still awaited. For example, when is an Environmental Impact Assessment (‘EIA’) undertaken for the brownfield allocations and by who? By the LPA when the site is designated or by the developer as a reserved matter? Despite being heralded as a radical reform, the proposal seems curiously like the old outline permissions where sites were granted permission for residential development but few details were supplied in the application.


The Bill also amends the Planning Act 2008 to allow applications submitted under the nationally significant infrastructure project regime to include an element of housing.


In other news, the “temporary” permitted development right from office to residential will be made permanent. The Government is promising further details shortly but Brandon Lewis has said that permitted development rights will be extended to include the demolition of offices to facilitate the new build residential development. In addition, changes of use from light industrial buildings and launderettes to residential will be permitted.