Loophole used by developers to reduce affordable housing levels closed

Jim Deen with fellow Labour councillor Beccy Cooper
Jim Deen with fellow Labour councillor Beccy Cooper

New Government planning guidance closing a loophole often used to reduce the levels of affordable housing has been welcomed.

Councils in Adur, Worthing and Arun seek up to 30 per cent affordable housing for developments above a certain size in recognition of a severe shortage of housing across the area.

But developers have used viability assessments to negotiate either a reduction or no contribution to affordable housing on a number of recent schemes.

Revised Government planning guidance, the updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), released last week may mean this loophole is closed.

According to the NPPF, where up-to-date policies set out contributions expected from development, planning applications that comply with them should be assumed to be viable.

It is up to the applicant to demonstrate whether particular circumstances justify the need for a viability assessment at the application stage.

Jim Deen, a Labour Worthing borough councillor, described how the town had lost millions of pounds towards affordable housing over the last few years with developers able to reduce contributions to a fraction of 30 per cent by using viability assessments, with the planning committee ‘powerless to do anything about it’.

He said: “I’ve been campaigning on this issue for several years and have been very grateful for the support the campaign has had from the Worthing Herald, with a number of excellent features highlighting the effect viability has had on affordable housing provision in Worthing.

“In December last year, Labour proposed a motion which called on the council to send a letter to the Secretary of State for Local Government asking on him to take action to close the viability loophole and stop further loss of affordable housing in Worthing.

“The motion had cross-party support and was carried unanimously by the full council. It might have seemed like a pointless exercise and that our pleas would fall on deaf ears, but clearly not.

“Within eight months, the guidance has been revised and the loophole of viability has effectively been closed.”

He added: “Now the emphasis is put back on the local plan to define what the expectation is from developers for affordable housing and infrastructure provision with viability already taken into account.

“It will be up to developers to demonstrate whether there are particular circumstances that justify the need for viability assessment when an application is being made for a particular site.

“The planning committee will have the authority to decide whether that assessment is taken into account – or rejected – when the decision is being made on that application.

“The power to decide what is best for Worthing is rightfully being returned to the planning committee and the council.”

But not all parties have welcomed changes to the NPPF or the impending introduction of a housing delivery test for councils.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Sussex branch has warned that the revised rules give developers too much control and will make it harder to protect the county’s countryside.

The group believes rural parts of Sussex face an unprecedented threat due to a mistaken belief by the Government that local councils are to blame for housing shortages rather than developers.

Kia Trainor, a CPRE Sussex director, said: “The new housing delivery 
test will force councils to 
keep allocating more green field sites when developers do not build homes quickly enough.

“It will put our countryside at risk and leave local communities frustrated and angry.”