Almost 30,000 affordable homes might not have been built over the past five years had proposed planning reforms been in place, new analysis has revealed.
The government’s plans to temporarily exempt developers from having to build affordable housing on small sites of under 40 or 50 homes could have led to 29,876 affordable homes going undelivered on developments across the country, research commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) found.
Areas which are already the least affordable, such as in the South of England, are likely to be most affected by the plans based on past trends, as some councils such as Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey could see their new affordable housing almost halved, the LGA added.
The cross-party body, which represents councils across England and Wales, warned that the proposals risk leading to a significant reduction in affordable housing as developers might ‘game the system’ in order to avoid building affordable homes.
Cllr David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesperson said: “With rising housing waiting lists and record numbers in temporary accommodation, we desperately need to be building more affordable housing, not less. We need to build homes that are affordable to local people and help to reduce homelessness, rather than contributing additional funds to developers’ and landowners’ profits.
“These current proposals risk allowing developers to game the system by only putting forward schemes for fewer than 40 or 50 homes, and so avoid building any affordable homes at all.”
The LGA’s intervention adds to complaints that the government’s proposed reforms to the planning system risk limiting councils’ ability to veto new developments.
The government has admitted that raising the threshold at which developers must build affordable housing under ‘section 106’ agreements – currently applied to sites with over 10 homes – could see affordable housing delivery drop by somewhere between 7% and 20% over a single year.
However, it says that temporarily lifting the threshold to 40 or 50 homes would make more sites viable for small and medium-sized developers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and would help increase the pace of housing delivery.
“On balance, the proposed approach would allow more small sites to come forward and help minimise the economic pressure that SMEs are under,” the government said in its consultation on the proposals.
The LGA has called for councils to be allowed to determine their own thresholds for affordable housing, which it says better considers the variation in housing markets across the country.
An MHCLG spokesperson called the LGA’s claims ‘fundamentally flawed’ as the proposals are planned to only remain in place for the next 18 months.
“Our proposals will bring in a new, simpler infrastructure levy to ensure developers pay their way and deliver at least as much, if not more, onsite affordable housing than today,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also pointed to the government’s recent announcement of its new £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme, which is expected to deliver up to 180,000 new affordable homes.