Erosion of the Policy
Whilst the overall picture presented is one of apparent success, growth and generalised acceptance of the policy, the timelines just presented also show that growth of affordable housing provision through planning slowed markedly during and following the recession. That is partly an understandable response to brute economics, with levels of housebuilding activity dropping dramatically during the crisis and having not yet fully recovered. Initially, and perhaps ironically, some developers who faced difficulty selling housing units entered a negotiation with authorities to take more of them as ‘affordable’, in order to complete schemes and remain in business. However, beyond this initial phase the emphasis has shifted to a focus, by the industry and government, on trying to shift ‘stuck sites’ and on trying to increase housing output by ensuring that regulatory burdens are not excessive. Previously agreed affordable housing requirements can be renegotiated through ‘viability testing’ (formally introduced via legislation in 2013) (Burgess et al. 2013).
Underlying this policy erosion is a good deal of doubt about the future shape, role and strength of the social housing sector, particularly following changes introduced by the incoming Conservative government in summer 2015—‘Right to Buy’ for housing associations; forced sale of local authority housing in high-value areas; ‘pay to stay’ (higher rents for higher-earning tenants); and reduced rents for social landlords. The new Government prioritised home ownership over social renting, and set ambitious targets for the new building. To this end, it announced that ‘Starter Homes’ (defined as homes sold at a 20 % discount on market value, with a very high-income eligibility threshold) would count as part of the ‘affordable housing’ planning obligation, and that local authorities could no longer insist on a certain proportion of social rented housing. One interpretation of this announcement is that it could spell the death knell of s.106 as an effective mechanism for delivering affordable and inclusionary housing.
However, it is early yet to judge the outcome of this flurry of policy change. Other aspects of the established system continue, like the role of needs assessments in strategic housing market areas (discussed further in
Illustration 5.2 Affordable rental and home ownership products, London. The delivery of affordable housing in Britain has been supported through the planning system. Increasingly, a diverse range of affordable rental and home ownership products have been delivered through this process.
(Image credit: Nicole Gurran 2015)
Chap. 10), ‘localism’, and the sustained priority on addressing homelessness. It still appears that local authorities will continue to exercise their planning and other powers to deliver a mix of housing in response to perceived local needs. Thus, perhaps, the ‘localism’ out of which the policy grew may help to defend it from being totally undermined.