Over the past month my thoughts have often turned to affordable housing delivery. I have been involved in various discussions about the rising number of homeless people, the problems that arise from a reliance on home ownership and the limited power left within the planning system to provide for housing need rather than just demand.
One of the widely accepted reasons for the current affordability crisis is one of supply. As a country, our demand for housing outstrips our supply. The planning system places a duty on Councils to plan for the demand and the development industry take the responsibility for supplying the housing. Over the past 5 years there has been a slowdown in the production of plans and also in the delivery of homes.
Unfortunately, the changes that have been made to the national planning and housing frameworks to help with the delivery of houses has had the effect of undermining the ability of Councils to seek help from the development industry in addressing affordability and need. Firstly, the affordable housing definition has changed so that it rarely meets the locally identified affordable need. Secondly, affordable housing is now provided subject to viability and thirdly, right to buy takes away the ability to provide affordable housing in perpetuity.
Local councillors recognise the rising homelessness numbers; they deal with this in their casework every day but often feel that the supply of housing that they are asked to consider through the planning committee does little to address the real issues they see in the local area. Seeing first-hand the conflict between what the planning system requires developers to provide and what is needed locally leads me to believe that we are at a crossroads with planning and affordable housing.
The viability test needs to be carefully reconsidered and reviewed in light of the current economic climate. Whilst applicants still have the option of proving that the development they are proposing cannot sustain a policy compliant amount of affordable housing, there is always likely to be a shortfall in supply. For the planning system to deliver truly affordable housing, it needs to meet a defined local need rather than a national definition. Currently, policy is moving further away from meeting a local need and there is still no viable alternative for the provision of truly affordable homes.
Whilst I am convinced that we will return to a fully plan-led system, I remain concerned that these plans will contain policies that can be so easily undermined by our national framework. Affordable housing that meets a locally defined need is a critical part of placemaking and we need to work hard to retain this element of housing supply within the planning system.
Anna Rose, President 2016/17