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26/09/2014

Affordable housing and the SPP - what will the impact be?

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Revisions to the Scottish Planning Policy have thrown open the debate on affordable housing quotas, says Shelter Scotland's Liz Shiel

Liz ShielIn June the Scottish government issued the revised Scottish Planning Policy. The part on affordable housing was amended thus:
 
- In relation to market housing, the level of affordable housing required as a contribution within a market site should “generally be no more than 25 per cent of the total number of houses”. 
- Where a development is for specialist housing – housing for older or disabled people – a contribution to affordable housing may not always be required. 
 
Previously, policy said 25 per cent was a benchmark figure, with the possibility for local flexibility, and there was no exemption set for specialist housing.
 
In its April report, Planning To Meet The Need: Delivering Affordable Housing Through The Planning System, Shelter Scotland feared these changes could cut the number of affordable homes.
 
Our research suggested that policies that demanded more than 25 per cent were rare, and those councils that had them generally applied them only to certain areas – generally the highest value, most pressured part of their area, where there was a need for affordable housing.
 
It was common for authorities in lower house price areas to have policies that required less than 25 per cent affordable housing and some councils did not state a requirement for a quota to be applied to mainstream private housing. Many councils had set their policy at 25 per cent and in many high-value areas delivery of 25 per cent affordable housing was often achieved. We felt government policy should emphasise the potential to achieve 25 per cent in such areas. Our worry was that setting a maximum figure would cause developers to push for lower ratios.

"Shelter Scotland feared these changes could cut the number of affordable homes"

The new policy addresses some concerns about the first draft, particularly that all specialist homes would be exempt from affordable housing requirements.
 
It may be desirable to exempt some specialist housing for older and disabled people. But a big sector of specialist housing is high-value, open-market homes for sale to older people. In places attractive to older people this type of housing can make up a large part of new development.
 
A policy that exempts all specialist housing from affordable housing requirements, including high-value housing for older people, affects the market for development sites, so less mainstream housing with affordable homes is built. Councils should decide on this depending on their priorities.
 
Shelter Scotland wants to see a new statistical bulletin to replace the Affordable Housing Securing Planning Consent, and has offered to support a roundtable with planning officers to discuss their experiences.
 
Liz Shiel, economist and town planner, is on Shelter Scotland’s committee and is a freelance consultant on urban policy.
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