Planning Inspectorate Backs Council on Affordable Housing Contributions

Tony Page
Cllr Tony Page

READING Borough Council’s on-going commitment to secure desperately needed affordable housing contributions from all housing developers was boosted this week, after the Planning Inspectorate admitted ‘failures’ in recent judgements on the provision of affordable housing in Reading.

A meeting of the Planning Applications Committee tonight (28th June) will hear the Planning Inspectorate’s response to a recent complaint by the Council in relation to decisions by inspectors on the provision of affordable housing in Reading.

In the letter dated June 22nd, the Government’s Planning Inspectorate admit ‘failures in both approach and judgement’ in two separate appeals on affordable housing made by the same planning inspector, just three days apart. In both cases, the Council argued affordable housing should be provided as part of small scale developments in Reading.

In reply to the Council’s complaint, the Inspectorate admitted not enough weight was given to local planning policies in the two judgements, and that the Inspector had instead incorrectly used a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS – 28 November 2015) as the starting point of his considerations. The letter states: ‘This was not an appropriate approach as the effect of the WMS was not to reduce the weight that should be given to the statutory development plan, or automatically to outweigh relevant development plan policies.’

The Inspectorate is clear that local planning policies should be the starting point from in such judgements and concludes: ‘…it is fully accepted that there are regrettably failures in both approach and judgement in these appeals.’

Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“This response from the Planning Inspectorate fully justifies the Council’s position in questioning the rogue judgements in these two particular cases. There is a clear acknowledgement that local policies should be the starting point for judgements on affordable housing contributions from developers, and I fully expect that to be the case for future decisions.

“The desperate need for affordable housing in Reading is indisputable. The Council position has always been to do everything in our power to ensure that all housing developers make a contribution to affordable housing, no matter how small the development. In a town like Reading, where a high percentage of housing developments are small due to the lack of space, it is essential that we maximise even the smallest of developer contributions.

“All developers should be willing to do their bit– and if necessary required – to help ease the housing crisis in the south-east, which is pricing so many people out of the market. ”

In the letter of complaint to the Planning Inspectorate in March, Council planning officers drew attention to the fact the planning inspector made little reference to the conclusions of four previous appeal decisions, all of which agreed with the Council judgement that affordable housing contributions should be provided as part of new developments. In all of these cases, every inspector found Reading Borough Council’s case should be treated as an exception to national planning policy which says affordable housing should not be sought on developments of 10 dwelling or less.

Notes To Editors:

In 2015, Reading Borough Council and West Berkshire Council joined forces to challenge Government changes to national planning policy which prevented local authorities from asking for contributions towards infrastructure and affordable housing on developments of 10 dwellings or less.

Despite the High Court initially finding in favour of the challenge by Reading and West Berkshire, a subsequent appeal by the Secretary of State was then upheld by the Court of Appeal in May 2016. This meant the changes to the National Planning Practice Guidance were reinstated. However, as part of its judgement the Court of Appeal did emphasise that ‘local circumstances may justify lower (or no) thresholds as an exception to the national policy.’

Oscar Mortali

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