Is the new Government planning exception policy for Starter Homes a Trojan Horse?

We all know buying an open market house has for many become unaffordable, especially those first time buyers.  Therefore I can see that a policy on helping fist time buyers looks like a good idea. The Government realises this, and has recently published a new policy on Starter Homes exception sites.

You may wonder what is a Starter Home? The new policy states it as:

A Starter Home is expected to be well designed and suitable for young first time buyers. Local planning authorities and developers should work together to determine what size and type of Starter Home is most appropriate for a particular Starter Home exemption site reflecting their knowledge of local housing markets and sites. A Starter Home is not expected to be priced after the discount significantly more than the average price paid by a first time buyer. This would mean the discounted price should be no more than £250,000 outside London and £450,000 in London.

To qualify for such a home, an application needs to be under 40 years old, and has not been a homeowner before. The latter is a pretty wide net too. Though I wonder how former members of the Armed Services who have served their full term – 22 years and would be over 40 – and who either like in single or married accommodation could apply for one. Might be a small point, but maybe the policy could have just said ‘ not been a homeowner previously.’

This exception policy would set a newly built house on the exception site at 20% under the market average for the area. This is to be welcomed due to the affordability of housing in many areas including Cornwall. But from reading the policy I do have some serious reservations on this policy

The first reservation I have is local planning authorities should not seek section 106 affordable housing contributions, including any tariff-based contributions to general infrastructure pots, from developments of Starter Homes. Though planning authorities will still be able to seek other section 106 contributions to mitigate the impact of development to make it acceptable in planning terms, including addressing any necessary infrastructure. What this means is the planning authority cannot seek an education, or open space contribution, nor will be have any social rental.

The Start Homes exception sites are expected to be on land that has been in commercial or industrial use, and which has not currently been identified for residential development. Furthermore, suitable sites are likely to be under-used or no longer viable for commercial or industrial purposes, but with remediation and infrastructure costs that are not too great so as to render Starter Homes financially unviable. This means housing – abet discounted by 20% – could be built on sites that either site outside of the Local Plan and /or a town or parishes neighbourhood Plan.

If an application has local resistance there seems little way of stopping the application as the policy states the application should be approved unless the local planning authority can demonstrate that there are overriding conflicts with the National Planning Policy Framework that cannot be mitigated. As the NPPF is pro-development, I see little way an application can be stopped.

As these type of homes will come forward as windfall sites, and therefore, local planning authorities should not make an allowance for them in their five-year housing land supply. This means of resisting a site on the five-year land supply argument cannot be used. And lastly, the new policy will allow a small percentage of open market houses on the site. The discretion on whether to allow open market development will rest with the LA.  As to the definition of what is small, this is not specified in the new policy document, and your small could be my big.

I am supportive of local low-cost needs housing, especially social rental. However I can see this policy being used to develop areas outside of the Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans. I know 20% is better than nothing, but I also know currently discounted sales are set at 50% less the local average. So there could be a clear incentive to develop this type of housing over other types. I guess time will tell.






Hayle – Which Supermarket Do You Pick?

Supermarkets seem to be the de-rigeur applications for planning lately. I have blogged about this subject numerous times before. The last few years the major supermarkets have been waging a massive expansion plan in Cornwall. Wadebridge, Truro and Penzance have proposals on or about to be placed on the table. Helston has just had two large stores recently open.

The Town of Hayle has caught the eye of 3 of the big boys of the supermarket world, namely Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and a major bank called ING who own Hayle Harbour, who in turn want to develop that area. Their plan also includes a supermarket.

Last night, I attended along with most of the Strategic Planning Committee a public meeting on these proposals. All 4 of the applicants were given 10 minutes to outline their cases and highlight how their plan would be best for Hayle. Of course, they all said their plan was the best for Hayle and the other plans would not be as good as theirs. It was then the turn of the public to raise various points and concerns that they had with these applications.

Around 300 people attended this meeting, and roughly 35 of those present decided to speak. From what I heard there was no overall preferred plan, but I did get the impression that the ING and the Asda proposals had the most support from those gathered. That does not mean the whole town feels the same, as only a small percentage attended.

I don’t want to spend much time on the details as it would take a week to read and most probably bore you to death. I will though give you a brief overview on the current proposals. For guidance the Asda store in Penryn is around 72,000 sq ft.

Sainsbury’s – 53,637 sq ft store, located Marsh Lane. Offering a long term nature reserve on the additional land they own.

Asda – 59,535 sq ft store located on the Rugby Ground at Marsh Lane. In their proposals they will build a new Rugby Ground at another site. Also other business units on this site.

Morrisons – 36,113 sq ft store located on the current Jewsons site. Offering retention and renovation of grade two structures in this area

ING – 56,295 sq ft store located on South Quay. Master plan for the whole area and like the Morrisons plan includes renovations of this Quay.

The difficult question that Hayle has to answer is what plan will be best for Hayle in the long term. Hayle from my knowledge has been let down many times before on plans to regenerate the area. Grand plans have been drawn up, but nothing has ever come of them. If Hayle has to sell its soul for development and investment what price will they ask and accept. Then again, they could say no to all.

This is something we as the Committee will have to take into consideration when we make our decision in a few weeks time. Strategic Planning is never easy, especially when the decisions you make could have far reaching effects.

A Success – Planning

Today at the West Planning Committee my first ‘call-in’ was on the Agenda. A ‘call-in’ is the right as a Cornwall Councillor to call any application in their division. This is the first time in over 16 months I have done this. The simple reason is that I prefer to negotiate between the interested parties like Porthleven Town Council, the applicant, objectors and Cornwall Council. I have so far managed to sort out most planning issues this way. It’s a lot easier to get all parties involved to talk and sort it out. This application had reached the buffers, and there was no other way than to take this to Committee 

The area in question is the former school canteen near Wellington Rd. It has recently been sold by Cornwall Council as surplus to requirements. Many people thought this building should be given for community use, but sadly the building was old, rotten and had large parts of it constructed out of asbestos. It would have needed to be knocked down and a replacement built. It was offered to the community, but it came with a price take of around £120k. That did not include the cost of the rebuild.

The site was sold with outline planning permission for one single storey dwelling. Most people who I spoke to supported this and were quiet happy with this. Sadly, as it was the right of the new owners, they decided to place three 2 storey buildings on this site. I will use the word shoehorned, as that’s what it amounted too. Anyway the Town Council were not happy with this, nor did the nearby residents. In fact this development would have had a very big negative impact on those houses along Wellington Rd. The applicant would not negotiate, so I decided to call this to Committee.

The short story is that I got it refused unanimously by the Planning Committee. They felt all the issues I raised were valid and decided to support me in my recommendations for refusal. The applicant has the right of appeal to the planning inspectorate, but I gave enough reasons to support refusal that should hold up if the applicant decides to go down this route. What I hope is the applicant will listen to the issues and I hope resubmit new plans that are for a maximum of 2 single storey building. I would be happier with one, but I have to be realistic on this.
Trying to cram as many houses into one small plot to maximise profit is not good for those residents that would be affected by it. It’s better to work with the local community to achieve something than purely for a better balance sheet.