Headlines: March 23rd, 2005

Social landlords are relying more and more on the planning system to deliver sites for affordable homes, according to a report published today. Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Housing Corporation says Section 106 planning agreements with private developers are increasingly important in delivering affordable homes, not least because housing associations are finding it harder to get land for social housing through more conventional means.The report shows the annual output of new affordable homes in England fell by more than a third from
2000- 01 to 2002-03, but the proportion built as a result of the special agreements, under which developers include affordable homes as a condition of planning permission, rose from below a third to almost half over the same period.

“Land and Finance for Affordable Housing”, produced by researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Sheffield combines data analysis with results from a survey of 380 housing associations as well as interviews with local authority and housing association representatives and developers.

Their report shows the overall number of new affordable homes, including those created through renovations and acquisitions of existing properties, fell from around 45,000 to 29,000 in the period under review. The number of new, affordable homes being completed also shows a decline. The proportion of completed affordable homes built through S106 planning agreements increased from 30 to 47 per cent while over the same period completions of affordable homes on land that housing associations had acquired for themselves fell from 21,451 to 13,949.

Housing associations reported increasing difficulty and expense in obtaining sites themselves. The most common ‘non-S106’ developments were on small infill sites, recycled ‘brownfield’ land and former local authority sites. Housing associations, private developers and local authorities were all more comfortable with the use of S106 to secure affordable homes than they were five years ago when the researchers conducted a similar study.

Sarah Monk, Deputy Director of the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and a co-author of the report, said, “It is encouraging that the Government’s plans for revised Planning Policy Guidance this year include changes to improve the system for negotiating planning agreements. But plans for an optional charge or tariff could frustrate this by making it harder to build affordable homes as part of private developments. This would also undermine the mixed communities agenda.