Reading Borough Council and West Berkshire District Council have persuaded the High Court to quash the policies introduced by Government to assist smaller scale developers, and encourage redevelopment of brownfield sites. This related to a series of measures to increase affordable housing thresholds, and introduce exemptions on previously developed land through the Vacant Building Credit. The Government introduced these changes through a Ministerial Statement in November 2014 which was simultaneously reflected in the National Planning Practice Guidance.
The two Councils had claimed that the measures would reduce the amount of affordable housing secured across the country by more than 20 per cent. They also claimed that it would have specific impact on their own areas, and provide a windfall to landowners and developers.
Mr Justice Holgate ruled that the policy was ‘incompatible’ with the statutory planning framework. He has therefore quashed the policy, which excluded developments of ten homes or fewer, or 1,000 square metres or less, from the requirement to provide or contribute to affordable housing provision.
The government has now removed paragraphs from a section on planning obligations in the National Planning Practice Guidance that related to revised affordable housing thresholds and the vacant building credit. It remains to be seen how Government will react, but as a result of the decision the judge ordered Government to pay the councils’ £35,000 legal fees.
Problems could now arise where sites have been purchased on the basis of revised thresholds, or the Vacant Building Credit. There are also a number of development plans that have draft policies based on now withdrawn sections of the National Planning Practice Guidance.
Government has confirmed that it will be seeking permission to appeal against the judge’s decision. A spokesman said, “This will have a disproportionate impact on smaller builders who are important in providing homes for local communities.”
UPDATE 25 February 2016. SF Planning understands that the Court of Appeal will hear the Government’s Appeal on 15 and 16 March 2016.
SF Planning will continue to update this article when more information becomes available. In the interim, if you have any existing sites that you are concerned about please contact us.