Section 106 reforms causing reduction of affordable housing commitments despite ‘desperate’ shortage

The need for, and lack of provision of, affordable housing is seen by some as rapidly developing into a nation wide crisis and some minor changes to legislation, amidst the Government’s shake-up of the wider planning system, have led to an unfortunate decrease in the provision of much needed affordable homes in many areas.

One such case is that of the Northumberland town of Alnwick. A hotly debated development proposal on a green-field site just outside of town was finally passed, with the result of 76 new houses on ‘Willoughby’s Bank’. Of these 76, 41 were to be sold or rented at 70% of market value to low income households (affordable homes).

In a turn around late last year, this was updated to just 27 affordable homes at 80% of market value, even though the total number of properties planned for the site remained at 76.

The reason is that tweaks were made to the Section 106 (of the Planning Policy Framework) rules in March 2011, in favour of making councils amenable to reconsidering and “modifying” the requirements in instances where approved schemes have become financially untenable due to the economic climate.

Bearing in mind during the period 1 April 2011 to 30 September 2011 just 454 affordable housing projects started across England, compared to 13,402 in the same period the year before, some might indicate this as having a significant wider affect.

Certainly, reports are of a number of reapplications from developers keen to reduce their affordable housing commitments and maximise their returns, of which the Alnwick case is a good example (in the words of Blackadder, series 1, filmed at Alnwick, “Poor Percy!”).

Thoughts on the matter are split between reducing affordable housing in order to allow developments to proceed, and the perceived greed of property developers who simply want to maximise their own returns.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government is reported to have commented:

“Some section 106 agreements which were negotiated at the height of the boom are simply unrealistic. They make the development unviable, meaning no construction, no regeneration, no affordable housing and no benefits at all to local communities. It’s common sense to look at these again.”

The local Mayor and Councillor, Eileen Blakely, reputedly takes a different view:

“I feel so cross and so upset by the greed of the developer. I don’t believe they can’t afford it. It is sheer greed. I think developers will just stick in a new application and see what happens.”

Further information on the Government’s ‘Affordable Housing Plan’, their strategy to address Britain’s chronic affordable housing shortage, can be found here.

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