Following a lengthy Court battle with Reading and Berkshire District Council, the Government has recently won an appeal to reinstate policies preventing affordable housing requirements on small scale developments of less than 10 dwellings.
Policy now allows new small scale and self-build housing development schemes of 10 units or less (with a maximum combined floor space of no more than 1,000m2) without requiring a percentage of those houses to be acquired by registered social housing providers to be let to social tenants. This policy, combined with other measures relaxing Permitted Development Rights (Office and Agricultural to Residential) are a good yardstick of the government’s attitudes generally to promoting house building and removing some of the red tape preventing (or at least slowing down) a delivery of much needed new homes.
But how does this work in practice? The fact that it has taken nearly two years to implement this original ministerial statement and lengthy court battles in the intervening period, are systematic of the attitude of local Councils towards development. It is clear that there is a huge housing need at a national level but that this is not filtering down into the decision making process. Local Authorities are looking to any excuse and loophole to prevent development of this nature perhaps for a fear of losing control.
Having come from a small scale niche house building background myself, I am generally in favour of the policies set out to remove this significant development tax and barrier to the delivery of small scale housing schemes. The issue with having to provide affordable housing on sites at this level is that it has a disproportionately adverse effect on the viability of sites. Generally, Social Housing providers would not wish to take on small clusters of 2 to 5 affordable homes because of the management implications in maintaining them, particularly where you have brown field sites with other high abnormal costs.
This policy goes some way to delivering further housing growth but perhaps not far enough. Advanced discussions are being had within the walls of Westminster, designed towards starter homes initiatives at genuinely affordable levels for first time buyers, in lieu of the traditional social housing model upon which we are currently working. Enabling young people and first time buyers to get on the housing ladder at a genuinely affordable level rather than relying on the welfare system to bridge the gap, to me seems a more holistic solution to the current housing crisis.
It remains to be seen how these rules will be implemented, but practice and I fear that Local Authorities’ track record may once again precede them.