Earlier this year, the Government reinstated rules exempting small sites from affordable housing obligations following the Court of Appeal decision in the case of West Berkshire District Council and Reading Borough Council v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
The reintroduction of the exception was welcome news for small scale developers, although questions were raised at the time over the weight which local authorities should attach to the restored guidance set out in national Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). It has transpired that most appeal decisions testing the policy have ruled in favour of the exemption, which excludes housing developments of 10 units or 1,000sqm or less from the need to provide, or contribute towards, affordable housing – with a lower threshold introduced in rural areas. However, in an appeal decision issued last week (22 September 2016), an Inspector has ruled that local plan policy should take precedence over the reinstated rules.
The appeal relates to South Cambridgeshire District Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for eight residential units in Oakington. South Cambridgeshire Council’s local plan policy requires at least 40 per cent of units on sites of two or more dwellings to be affordable. However, the proposed development did not make any provision for affordable housing on the basis that it would be exempt in line with the Government’s Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) which introduced the policy. The Inspector dismissed the appeal on grounds unrelated to affordable housing but, importantly, he concluded that ‘the WMS needs to be addressed alongside local policy’ and found it necessary for the proposed development to comply with local plan policy in respect of affordable housing.
This appeal decision clearly raises doubts over the status of policy guidance excepting small scale development sites from affordable housing contributions and will not make happy reading for the Government. It has been trying to establish the policy since the WMS was first published in November 2014.
If you have any queries about this decision or policies regarding the provision of affordable housing, please feel free to contact one of the Firstplan team.