READING Borough Council has expressed serious concerns about the ‘high degree of inconsistency’ of recent decisions by planning inspectors on the provision of much-needed affordable housing in Reading.
The Council is also firmly standing by its requirement to secure affordable housing contributions from ALL housing developers given the critical need for genuinely affordable accommodation in Reading.
In a formal letter of complaint sent to the Government’s Planning Inspectorate last week, Council officers draw attention to two separate appeal decisions on affordable housing made by the same planning inspector, just three days apart.
In both cases the Council insisted affordable housing should be provided as part of small scale developments in Reading. One developer appeal was upheld – meaning they did not have to provide affordable housing. The second appeal was dismissed for a number of reasons, but the same planning inspector made clear it would have been upheld in relation to the affordable housing.
The judgements come despite the fact that in four recent appeal decisions inspectors agreed with Reading Borough Council that affordable housing should be provided as part of developments.
Tony Page, Reading Borough Council Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:
“After four inspectors previously agreed with the Council that affordable housing should be provided as part of developments, we now have a position where an inspector contradicts his colleagues and goes completely the opposite way by effectively upholding appeals by developers not to provide affordable housing.
“If ever there was an example of the uphill battle Reading and many other local authorities face in trying to force developers do their bit to ease the housing crisis in the south-east, this is it. The degree of inconsistency is staggering. This rogue decision is not going to undermine the Council’s policy however.
“There is a critical need for affordable housing in Reading and we are determined to do everything in our power to ensure developers make contributions.
“These are hugely disappointing decisions, not only in their conclusion on the affordable housing issue, but in their lack of reference to the very full case submitted by the Council which sets out a clear and unequivocal case for contributions.”
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.”
In the letter to the Planning Inspectorate last week, Council planning officers draw attention to the fact the planning inspector makes 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.
The letter to the Planning Inspectorate goes on to say: “I am aware that a number of other councils have complained to you about the high degree of inconsistency between Inspectors in determining appeals on small site affordable housing provision. Reading Borough Council now joins that list of councils.”