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16/02/2016

Greater clarity needed on off-site affordable housing, says report

Construction in London / Shutterstock_313752248

The planning process in relation to affordable housing must become more consistent and transparent if it is to boost London’s house building, according to a report by business lobby group London First and planning consultancy Turley.

The report, The Off Site Rule, calls for greater clarity about the acceptability of building affordable housing off-site where a need can be demonstrated that this would result in the optimisation of a project.

It also calls for more transparency of information surrounding how payments in lieu of on-site affordable housing construction are spent by boroughs, and for a fixed-time limit to be set on the spending of these funds, after which the money should be transferred to the Mayor to be used in a Greater London Authority (GLA) affordable housing programme.

The study identifies a sharp rise in residential planning permissions being granted with payment in lieu, from only 70 between 2004 to 2010 to 88 payments in 2014 alone, totalling over £250 million. In the past three years the value of payments in lieu in London represents 7,617 affordable homes, it suggests.

But there is “little information publicly available about how this money is spent”, says the report. Concerns have therefore been raised that money is not being used to support the delivery of affordable homes, but is being leant on for general expenditure purposes by boroughs facing financial pressures. Further guidance is needed on how the local planning authority should spend the money and over what time frame, say First London and Turley.

They add: “Administrative lines drawn on a map differentiating one borough from the next do not always reflect the geography of local housing markets, which can straddle political boundaries. Off-site delivery and payments in lieu both raise issues of cross-boundary delivery.

“There could be a role for the GLA, with its London-wide remit, to facilitate the cross-boundary provision of new affordable homes, but this would need clear rules and transparency, particularly in how nomination rights between boroughs are addressed.”

Jonathan Seager, director of housing policy at London First and co-author of the report, told The Planner that they were not suggesting the policy proposals made in this report would directly lead to the delivery of 50,000 homes a year in the capital, as called for by London First’s campaign.

Rather, this achievement would be reliant on a number of factors, including using transport link structure as a catalyst to unlock more homes and boroughs being given a greater financial incentive to accommodate new homes, coupled with more discretionary powers for the Mayor of London to determine applications in boroughs that aren’t delivering the homes needed.

Seager added: “We think that issues such as off-site affordable housing provision and payment in lieu raise cross-boundary issues, particularly, but not exclusively, in relation to high-value development in central London, where there is possibility of receiving a better financial return if you deliver homes in areas of London that can more easily accommodate growth and have lower land values.

“There is a place for the GLA in managing this cross-boundary provision”.

PICTURE CREDIT | SHUTTERSTOCK

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