Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-212)



  Q200 Mr Betts: Social Housing Use Class, how do you think it would work?

  Mr Forrest: This has been suggested on a number of occasions in the past and has come back forcibly to us as part of a tool-kit of solutions to meeting the need for affordable housing. So often the discussion goes along the lines of, even when land is available the market price of that land is so high that housing associations cannot bid successfully for it, and it is just one way in which the land value might conceivably be reduced below an open market figure.

  Q201 Mr Betts: Why does not Section 106 suffice to achieve that objective?

  Mr Forrest: One of the things about having a Social Housing Use Class is, it is not just that but also, I think, it does enable planning authorities to plan proactively and constructively for the future provision of affordable housing in the right places and not just relying upon the way in which the market may be working and then responding after the event, as it were, after a planning application has come in, with a Section 106 Agreement. Although there are other ways, rural exception sites are another way in which affordable housing is delivered in rural areas, but I think a Social Housing Use Class can certainly have that effect of reducing value and enabling associations to bid. It also has one other effect, which is similar in urban areas across the piece, actually, where a combination of legal advice, public sector organisations, where, again, they have to deliver best obtainable value for their land, if the valuers feel that a site is going to achieve far more from a private sector developer than a housing association can pay for it, they are not prepared to release that land necessarily for social housing. The issue there is that if the planning arrangements with regard to that site could include a Social Use Class on it then there is just the possibility there that the land then would be reduced in value and be capable of being sold to housing associations.

  Q202 Mr Betts: There are two issues here, are there not? First of all, you are saying that it enables you to plan for social housing because you know where it is going to be built and actually that presumes that anyone who wants to come forward can sell the land at that price. At least with 106 you have got somebody who is proposing to build houses and you are almost working with them to make sure that a %age of those are better for social renting. The Social Use Class; if you designate the land just for that purpose then it may be that they have not noticed the market at all because it has been downvalued, and you said the whole object is to downvalue and downprice that land, and no-one actually wants to develop it?

  Mr Forrest: I think sometimes the prospect for Section 106 Agreements also may be said to inhibit the release of land if they do not want a social housing component on it. The argument can go round that loop in different ways.

  Q203 Mr Betts: You do recognise that could be the effect?

  Mr Forrest: It may be; there is also the implication that if that site really is needed to meet an unmet affordable housing requirement then there are other ways of bringing that forward, either voluntarily or through compulsory purchase powers.

  Q204 Chair: You are proposing compulsory purchase?

  Mr Forrest: I think, in an ultimate situation, if a community needs that affordable housing and the land suppliers are not coming forward then it is one way in which that can be achieved.

  Q205 Mr Betts: How do you actually produce such a thing, because presumably one should begin to give the idea that you want to do that, or Government announces its intention, then there will be a consultation period, presumably, in which time every owner of a piece of land which is going to be rezoned for social housing is going to get a planning application in and get permission for private housing, are they not?

  Mr Forrest: Not if the planning system is working effectively within the allocation of numbers within the Regional Spatial Strategy. It is not a free for all.

  Q206 Mr Betts: The land is already zoned for housing. Presumably we are talking about giving up the housing land between different uses, ie for social housing or for moderately-priced housing, then once you begin to give an indication that you are going to bring in this sort of system everybody who has got land who thinks they may be going to fall into this category is going to immediately downvalue the price of the land they own and put in for permission for market housing, are they not, which will scupper your proposal?

  Mr Forrest: They may, but I think authorities need to think carefully about how that land is being released and who it is being released for, so that their Local Housing Strategies impact on the way in which their planning system is operating.

  Q207 Mr Betts: It has got permission; if it is zoned for housing under the UDPA ODF, it is up to the owner to come forward for planning permission?

  Mr Forrest: That is where planning authorities can and need to increasingly be clear why they are releasing land.

  Q208 Mr Betts: They do not release it, do they?

  Mr Forrest: In the way in which they are giving consent for that land, so that there are briefs and there are other means of directing how that land should be used.

  Q209 Anne Main: Can I just be clear, if it went to private sector only then you would be expecting them to release their land at a reduced rate for social housing?

  Mr Forrest: No, I think it should help with the release of public sector land as well.

  Q210 Anne Main: We are talking school playfields, and things, so again equally that could be chopped in value?

  Mr Forrest: If necessary, yes, to make that accessible, if the market price is too high for associations to buy.

  Q211 Martin Horwood: I am very keen to see more social housing, but does not this fly in the face of the trend away from having single-typed zones and into more mixed-use and diverse communities?

  Mr Forrest: That is the risk which needs to be avoided, certainly.

  Q212 Martin Horwood: How could it possibly be avoided, if you are zoning a particular area of land for social housing?

  Mr Gregory: We do have some examples of a slightly different take on that, in districts that are beginning to run out of their general supply of housing land, in accordance with the strategy. Now they are looking for exception sites which are excluded from the general strategy and they are focusing those exception sites on low-value housing and they are framing the planning permission to release those sites specifically for low-value houses. I think it is Bromsgrove and Stratford-upon-Avon which now have run out of the generality of housing numbers where they can give general planning permissions. They can give planning permission now only by exception, and that is specifically for housing which meets their identified local need, so we have got some examples of where that is beginning to work across the region.

  Chair: Thank you very much indeed.

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