The past 9 months has seen the Government introduce 2 major changes to its policy on Section 106 affordable housing requirements which form part of its attempt to incentivise the redevelopment of brownfield sites : Firstly it has raised the threshold for requiring affordable housing and other S106 requirements to 10 or more residential units; and secondly, it has introduced the Vacant Building Credit to allow existing vacant floorspace to be excluded from affordable housing requirements.
New threshold for affordable housing – the Government has confirmed that affordable housing and tariff-style contributions should not be sought from developments of 10 units or less and which have a maximum combined gross floorspace of no more than 1000sqm. In designated rural areas (including National Parks, AONBs), local planning authorities may choose a lower threshold of 5 units or less.
Vacant Building Credit (VBC) – Where existing vacant floorspace is to be either to be retained or demolished as part of conversion /redevelopment schemes, the existing gross floorspace can be deducted from the amount of new floorspace so that only new net additional floorspace will have to provide affordable housing in accordance with each Local Authority’s affordable housing policies. Therefore if there is no additional floorspace, no affordable housing should be sought. The financial credit is applicable to all scales of development, irrespective of overall floorspace or numbers of proposed residential units and can be applied to either to the number of affordable units or to financial contributions towards affordable housing. Local Authorities are however given some discretion as to how to apply VBC – if the building was made vacant for the sole purpose of redevelopment, or if the building already benefits from an existing or recently expired planning permission for a similar development the Local Authority can refuse to apply the VBC.
So how are Local Planning Authorities choosing to apply these changes in practice? Or more specifically, can Local Planning Authorities choose to ignore the new affordable housing/S106 thresholds and the VBC ?
The Government has made it clear that these changes constitute national planning policy (rather than mere guidance) and as such Local Planning Authorities must take this national policy into account when deciding planning applications. It is however up to each Local Authority to decide how much weight to give to it when weighing against its local plan policies.
A High Court judgment on this issue is eagerly awaited which will hopefully provide some clarity on how the changes should be applied going forward. (R on the Application of West Berkshire District Council v Department for Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/76/2015)
For further information please contact Ruth Harding in the Planning Team
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