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.