Government set to change the affordable housing criteria – again

The Government just cannot leave the planning rules for more than a few days without wanting to make changes. They say it is for the benefit of people who are unable to access the housing market. Others would say the tweaks are to the advantage to developers. The latest changes which are currently being consulted upon are around affordable housing.

The Government is looking at changes to broadening the definition of affordable housing to include starter homes; increasing the density of development around commuter hubs; supporting sustainable new settlements; helping development on brownfield land and small sites; ensuring delivery of housing allocated in plans; promoting and aiding the delivery of starter homes, including exception sites in rural areas and as part of mixed use commercial developments. As you can read quite a few changes to the current planning rules.

In the latest round of tweaks, the Government plans to soften the current exception site policy in favour of ‘starter home’ developments. For the Government’s definition of a starter home click HERE.

I am concerned to extend rural exceptions to deliver starter homes. In Cornwall rural exception sites have played a vital role in the provision of affordable housing in Cornwall.

Furthermore, the proposal to allow exception sites for starter homes could significantly reduce the willingness of landowners to make sites available for affordable housing outside of starter homes. The loss of this approach or undermining its acceptance with local communities and landowners could significantly reduce the delivery of local needs housing.

If the provision is to be made, the Council should have the flexibility to require local connection tests. It is not clear from the consultation whether this test would be made perpetuity. Which means someone could purchase a starter home and then make a large profit on a re-sale.

Rural exception sites are often located in the most expensive and desirable areas of Cornwall and the changes could impact on a local person’s ability to be able to purchase a home with only a discount of 20% from open market value.

The evidence included within draft policies within Cornwall’s emerging local plan indicates that that the average ‘purchasing power’ of households looking to buy an affordable home may only be £87,000-£104,500 for typical 2 and 3-bedroom houses. With average house prices as high in Cornwall, if (or should I say when) this change happens, it should be up to the local authority to set the discount.

As 20% of a averagely (last quarter of 2015) price house in Helston of £202,481; Porthleven (£237,151) and Praa Sands (£378,900) is not going to make much difference in the ability to afford a they currently are, it is highly unlikely that a 20% discount will enable a significant number of additional households to purchase a property.

A further impact of these possible changes to the rules is the knock on effect on affordable rents. If starters homes are given more weight, or developers see a greater profit in delivering this type of house will mean less affordable rents. High rents are an issue in Cornwall. If these are less houses available for rent, the demand for existing stock will no-doubt push the rental price up.

More details From the Planning PAC HERE

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