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08.12.15

Whitehall seeks to dilute affordable housing definition and open up green belt

The government is looking to dilute the definition of affordable housing to meet its ambitious goal of building 400,000 homes by 2020-21, both to buy and to rent.

Under new proposals, the scope of ‘affordable housing’ would be amended to include products similar to low cost market housing or intermediate rent – such as discount market sales and Rent to Buy housing.

In a consultation launched yesterday and running until 25 January, the DCLG said: “The current affordable housing definition includes some low-cost home ownership models, such as shared ownership and shared equity, provided that they are subject to ‘in perpetuity’ restrictions or the subsidy is recycled for alternative affordable housing provision.

“This limits the current availability of home ownership options for households whose needs are not met by the market.”

Some of these features may not be subject to ‘in perpetuity’ restrictions or have recycled subsidy, meaning they fall outside the breadth of the existing affordable housing definition.

“We also propose to make clearer in policy the requirement to plan for the housing needs of those who aspire to home ownership alongside those whose needs are best met through rented homes, subject as now to the overall viability of individual sites,” the document added.

If proposals goes through as planned, local authorities could address housing needs with a broader range of housing types, including by securing starter homes as part of their negotiations on sites.

These changes would also build on prime minister David Cameron’s divisive decision to scrap planning rules that require property developers to build affordable homes for rent, announced in October. The pledge was part of a bid to increase the amount of homes for first-time buyers in an effort to shift from ‘generation rent’ to ‘generation buy’.

Another controversial aspect of the consultation document is central government’s intention to change laws that block councils from building “small-scale developments” in the green belt. The definition of “small-scale” would be left at the hands of local areas.

It claimed that the current policies does not support neighbourhood plans to allocate land in the green belt to meet housing needs, where this is supported by the wider community.

“We consider that the current policy can hinder locally-led housing development and propose to amend national planning policy so that neighbourhood plans can allocate appropriate small-scale sites in the green belt specifically for starter homes, with neighbourhood areas having the discretion to determine the scope of a small-scale site,” the consultation read.

“This will support local areas in giving affordable home ownership opportunities to young people and young families by enabling a small level of development that is sympathetic to local concerns and is clearly supported by local people.”

Despite the changes, the government argued that they remain committed to protecting the green belt from “inappropriate development”, but acknowledged that some parts of it contain communities that need to thrive.

As already announced in the Spending Review, previously developed brownfield sites in the green belt would also receive regeneration support that allows them to be developed in the same way as other brownfield land.

Labour’s Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said he was very concerned by the proposals and “absolutely alarmed” that the consultation is being rushed over the Christmas period.

“I have no problem with a proper review of the green belt to see whether it is all appropriate or whether more should be added in,” he said.

“But that is how it should be done, not as a bit of opportunity to cherry pick the best sites by developers, which this sounds like it could develop into.”

The consultation document was published on the same day as communities secretary Greg Clark MP opened a £8m fund to help councils build 27 starter home sites nationwide.

The money will be used to build starter homes on local brownfield sites that are currently underused or vacant, through measures like clearance, remediation, demolition or site investigations.

PSE has contacted the LGA for comment, but a spokesperson said they will still consider the implications and respond to the consultation in due time.

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