Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by National Housing Federation (GIB 13)

1. The National Housing Federation is the voice of affordable housing in England. We believe that everyone should have the home they need at a price they can afford. That’s why we represent the work of housing associations and campaign for better housing. Our members provide two and a half million homes for more than five million people. Each year they invest in a diverse range of neighbourhood projects that help create strong, vibrant communities.

Summary – driving growth through housing

2. Housing drives growth with a speed and effectiveness few industr ies can match. It has a crucial role to play in the country’s economic recovery. The statistics speak for themselves. Every £1 spent on housing puts £3 into the wider economy. And because every new home built creates 1.5 jobs in construction and up to four times that number in the wider supply chain, it also gets people back into work.

3. The Federation therefore welcomed the Government’s housing stimulus package in September and its focus on driving growth through housing. A number of measures in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will support that work by reducing the red-tape which can delay investment, regeneration and job creation. The Federation supports the ambition to place the current town and village green legislation inside the planning system and the Penfold Review reforms of non-planning consents.

4. However, further consideration needs to be given to the changes to Section 106 agreements to ensure that much needed affordable housing is not lost. Provisions in the Bill to allow affordable housing requirements to be reviewed where a development is alleged to be economically unviable should be expanded to:

· Apply to all planning obligations, not just affordable housing

· Consider broader issues than just economic viability, including the development plan policies, such as the need for homes at a range of prices in local communities .

5. It is worth noting that no evidence has been provided to suggest that Section 106 generally, and its affordable housing component specifically, are routinely stalling developments.

Section 106 and affordable h ousing

6. Clause 5 of the Bill contains a new provision that allows affordable housing requirements to be reviewed where a development is alleged to be economically unviable.

7. No evidence has been provided to suggest that Section 106 is routinely stalling development or that the affordable housing planning obligations alone are a particular concern. The Federation accepts the need to be able to review planning obligations in some instances but proposes two key changes to the draft clause:

· The new provision applies only to modifying and relaxing affordable housing requirements. O ther planning obligations will also have an effect on economic viability and there is no clear reason for limiting the examination to affordable housing. Clearly, changing affordable housing obligations will rarely have an effect on commercial or retail development. If the intention is to help unlock development then it should apply to all obligations and, indeed, to all development costs including the Community Infrastructure Levy;

· The new clause only considers issues of economic viability. That should not be the sole test. There needs to be some consideration of development plan policy such as the need for homes at a range of prices in local communities. Rural exception sites have been identified to do just that by bringing forward the delivery of affordable housing in often expensive rural areas. Would it be right if the affordable housing component of such sites were lost despite the clear need for affordable homes in these places?

8. Further detailed changes would also be needed to make sure that modifications to existing obligations are only made if they are necessary and that the development will be delivered. The justification for the change should be in the public domain and there must be protections to ensure that the revised obligation is not simply ‘banked’ for better times.

Background to changes to Section 106 agreements

9. Section 106 agreements, sometimes known as ‘planning obligations’ or ‘planning gain,’ are agreements made between the d eveloper and the Local Planning Authority (LPA). They are used to make su re that development impacts are mitigated for the local community, to ensure the q uality of schemes and to secure affordable housing.

10. Critically, planning obligations also ensure that a supply of land is available for affordable housing. Even through the housing market downturn, when dev elopers were delivering fewer schemes for sale, ove r 50% of affordable housing was deli vered through these agreements. [1]

11. Planning obligations can be amended at any time if there is agreement between the developer and the local planning authority. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have encouraged plannin g authorities to be sympathetic to requests for alterations where economic circu mstances have changed. Evidence collected by the Local Government Association (LGA) shows that most plan ning authorities are responding f avourably to suitable planning requests. [2]

12. There is also a formal procedure in Section 106A of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 that allows developers to apply, once five years have passed, for the modification or discharge of planning obligations if th e obligation no longer serves a useful purpose. The time period means that the pro vision is rarely used. DCLG are currently consulting on a change that will allow appl ications to modify all planning obligations made before April 2010.

13. In line with our views on the Bill, the Federation has supported this proposal, subject to pl anning obligations being proven to be genuinely the reason that development is not happening and the Local Planning Authority being satisfied the changes are acceptable. If obliga tions are reconsidered then the process should be open to public scrutiny, with saf eguards for the public interest should the market improve.

Town and village g reens

14. The Federation recognises the value of town and village greens to communities. They are an important and historic part of the fabric of our urban and rural environments. They offer breathing spaces and places for escape, for play and for recreation.

15. We recognise that the quality of people's homes are influenced by the spaces around them, and that green spaces are crucial to making neighbourhoods liveable and contribute to people's quality of life. The Federation supports Neighbourhoods Green, a partnership initiative which highlights the importance of open space for residents of social housing and works with social landlords to raise the quality of their design, management and safe use. It is therefore important that the remaining genuine unregistered greens are identified and protected.

16. However the existing town and village green legislation is poorly drafted and has too often been abused by people opposing developments. We therefore fully support the Bill’s ambition to place the current town and village g reen legislation inside the planning system.

 

17. An increasing number of greens have been promoted that have no prospect of being registered. This has incurred unnecessary costs for housing associations and delayed many affordable housing projects – data submitted by housing associations on the impact and the extent of the delays can be seen at annex 1 . We believe that the introduction of the NPPF and its presumption in favour of sustainable development alongside an unreformed system could lead to an exponential rise in applications to frustrate development.

November 2012

Annex 1 : Town and village green application data submitted to D efra by housing associations during the 2011 consultation

Housing Association

Site name

Length of delay

to project

Estimated costs

Hastoe Housing

Marsh Gibbon

2.5 years

£85,000

Eden HA

Lark Lane Dev

2 years

£10,000

Arcadia Housing

Smart’s Green, S Glos

2 years

£70,000

Orwell Housing

Flowton Road, Somersham

2 years

£70,000+

Housing Plus

Silverdene, Penkridge

Over 2 years

 

Home Group

Pontefract, Wakefield

2 years

£10,000

Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust

Derwent Thorpe, York

 

Colne Housing

Heighbridge, Maldon

Since June’11/ongoing

£1.2m

Impact Housing

South Lakeland

3 years

£17,500

First Wessex

Gosport

2 years

£5,000


[1] The Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research's analysis of HSSA statistics

[1] (http://data.gov.uk/dataset/england-hssa-housing-strategy-statistical-appendix) for the

[1] National Housing Federation, 2012.

[2] An analysis of unimplemented planning permissions for residential d wellings Glenigan

[2] for the LGA 2012.

Prepared 21st November 2012