Overall Assessment

There have been a number of official and other impact and evaluation studies of the planning and affordable housing policy in the UK, with the primary focus on England where the policy has been applied most strongly (Crook et al. 2002, 2010; Monk et al. 2005). In part, these reiterate the strongly positive emerging picture in terms of numbers just presented. There is also a financial dimension to this. At its peak, in 2007, planning agreements were delivering c.?5bn of contributions to public infrastructure and services, with affordable housing accounting for rather more than half of this (Crook et al. 2010). This volume of subsidy exceeded the official public spending subsidy allocation for the entire affordable housing programme. However, the recession has thrown a big question mark over the sustainability of such contributions.

There are also positive findings on the ‘inclusionary’ aspect of s.106, in terms of promoting many more ‘mixed’ developments, including the introduction of affordable housing into higher-priced/higher-income neighbourhoods (Monk et al. 2005). The evidence on how successfully ‘mixed communities’ function in practice is, perhaps inevitably, mixed, although some studies show an encouragingly positive picture (e.g. Bretherton and Pleace 2011; Ferrari 2012). At the same time, wider academic literature continues to question whether mixed communities are necessarily positive in their impact on social outcomes, showing at best a mixed, nuanced set of findings (van Ham et al. 2012). Whilst there is a generally shared wish to avoid large concentrations of social housing containing an overwhelmingly poor and deprived population, more generally policies for neighbourhood social mix are not a panacea and should not be seen as a substitute for direct measures to address poverty and disadvantage (Cheshire 2007).

A critique of s.106 would necessarily focus on a number of features of its implementation, and its generally risky and contingent character (Monk 2010). It depends a lot on the competence of local authorities in setting appropriate policies and model agreements and negotiating consistently, intelligently and speedily on specific proposals which may have distinctive features. If these conditions are not fulfilled, developers may experience delay and frustration, or authorities may not get the contributions they hope for and which might have been feasible. Arguably, for quite a long period social housing grant was being made available and paid out on too generous a basis, not allowing for the potential of s.106, leading to wasted public money and inflated land values. In the current recessionary period, previous assumptions have to be revised,

Illustration 5.3 New apartments for sale and rent, London. Following the GFC, a growing private rental and buy to let market has emerged in the UK. (Image credit: Nicole Gurran 2015) but it is unclear how far into the future this applies and whether current viability assessments are realistic. In Scotland, where the policy was never adopted so strongly by its national government, where housing need and affordability pressures are generally less, and where the social housing sector is more used to a traditional subsidy regime, the policy has been less strongly adopted (with some local exceptions) and also subject to criticisms of the above kind (Newhaven Consulting 2008). Northern Ireland has never had the policy but is now actively considering its introduction.

We would strongly concur with the conclusions of Monk (2010) and Crook et al. (2010 and personal communication) that the policy has been a relative success story because of its bottom-up origins, going with the grain of local government, a response to the betterment and housing issues which has the characteristics of being hypothecated, locally determined, variable, locally retained and ‘in-kind’. The policy clearly makes sense in the British type of planning system, where permission for development is reserved as a discretionary decision of local authorities within a plan- and policy-led framework, and so cannot be simply imported to the many countries which have more formal zoning-type systems. Yet, curiously, Monk (2010) observes that perhaps the English system is coming to resemble those other countries, to a degree, insofar as s.106 has to some extent become associated with practices of densification, as a way of making affordable housing obligations acceptable and deliverable (but also of meeting housing numbers targets without infringing sensitive green belt areas).

 
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