Planning reforms announced this week will see the mechanism that delivers close to 50% of all England’s affordable housing scrapped.
The government has said it intends to abolish Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy planning agreements and replace them with a new overarching Infrastructure Levy as part of the move to a zonal planning system.
Under the proposals, unveiled on Thursday, planning applications based on pre-approved ‘design codes’ would get an automatic green light.
Land across England would be divided into three categories – growth, renewal or protection – under what Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick described as “once in a generation” reforms.
New homes would be allowed automatically in Growth areas, while in Renewal zones and largely urban and brownfield sites proposals would be given ‘permission in principle’ – subject to basic checks.
Greenbelt and areas of outstanding natural beauty would be protected.
The proposals have been met with criticism from housing charities, planning officers, and architects who warn of a “new generation” of substandard housing.
Anger at planning reforms
Housing commentators have raised concerns about what the planning reforms will mean for delivering social rented homes, adding to the criticism of details of the reform that were announced earlier in the week.
Melanie Rees, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “The big question in my mind is what this means for social rented homes.
“Robert Jenrick has talked about people not being able to buy a home, but the planning system is about more than that.
“We’d like real reassurance that there won’t be a negative impact on homes for genuinely affordable rent as a result of this, and that’s a bit of a concern at the moment.”
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Any alternative to Section 106 must ensure we can deliver more high-quality affordable homes to meet the huge demand across the country.
“Any new system must also enable the ’levelling up’ of communities that have already been left behind, such as rural communities or places with a struggling local economy.”
Shelter said social housing “could face extinction” if the requirement for developers to build their fair share was removed.
“Section 106 agreements between developers and councils are tragically one of the only ways we get social homes built these days, due to a lack of direct government investment,” said its chief executive, Polly Neate.
“So, it makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative.”
Section 106 & Infrastructure Levy
Section 106 planning agreements see developers deliver affordable homes in exchange for permission to build.
The agreements currently contribute the most affordable housing, accounting for 49% of all affordable homes completed in England in 2018/2019.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick claimed the planning reforms will make planning decisions “simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process”.
The Infrastructure Levy will be a fixed portion of the value of the development, above a set threshold, with revenues going toward local projects such as new roads, playgrounds, and discounted homes for local first-time buyers.
According to the government, the levy will represent “a new, simpler” way to levy to replace the current system of developer contributions “which often causes delay”.
Hugh Ellis, policy director at the Town and Country Planning Association, expressed concern, saying: “For a national land tax to work it’s going to have to be very complicated, and it’s going to have to be graduated if it’s going to succeed.”
Richard Blyth, head of policy and practice at the Royal Town Planning Institute, said that a flat rate charge may be difficult to create because of differing land values across the country.
However, Helen Evans, chief executive of Network Homes and chair of the G15, said: “I strongly welcome the intention of government’s proposed reforms to increase transparency and certainty to help increase the delivery of affordable homes.”
Stonewater’s executive director of Development, Jonathan Layzell, also welcomed the proposals.
He said: “We welcome the proposed ‘radical’ reform of the planning system to tackle current inefficiencies. In particular the introduction of a zonal planning system, to allow more land to be allocated for housing – especially in high-demand areas, as this could lead to hundreds of thousands more homes and be truly transformational.”
But Layzell added: “However, we need to ensure that the new plans safeguard the delivery of a truly mixed tenure solution meeting the needs of families and individuals across our society by delivering homes for social and affordable rent, open market sale and sub-market housing for sale such as shared ownership and the government’s new First Homes initiative.”
The government’s planning white paper – Planning for the future – is now out for consultation.
The changes are expected to only impact England.