The quest to deliver affordable housing

Breaking down planning barriers to affordable housing delivery.

The delivery of affordable housing in the UK remains stubbornly low. Despite a recent small increase in delivery, the rate sits significantly below experts’ assessments of where it should be (that is, around 145,000 new affordable homes each year).

Yet it remains one of the government’s long-term priorities (notwithstanding the high degree of flux we’ve seen over recent weeks). For all the debate and wrangle that happens over politically charged issues, such as whether or not to build on Green Belt land, there is one thing that unites MP from across the political spectrum when it comes to housing: 

We must provide the right type of homes that meet people’s needs.

So, why is it so hard to provide housing that truly meets the needs of communities? And how should the planning process be helping to unlock sites?

What are the planning barriers to affordable housing delivery? 

We work with several Registered Providers (RPs) and national housebuilders in our quest to deliver housing that meets people’s needs. Along the way, we’ve seen first-hand the hurdles that can be faced when navigating the planning system.

If the government is serious about delivering enough affordable homes – that is, housing for sale or rent for those whose needs are not met by the market – then we’ll need to work together to surmount these obstacles.

Here are three barriers we’ve experienced that can impact the delivery of affordable housing, and how we think they’re best resolved.

Barrier one: the mechanism by which affordable housing is secured

We know that RPs and affordable housing developers prefer to secure affordable housing via planning condition as it enables Homes England grant funding to be drawn down more easily; a process that can be challenging if secured through the legal agreement. 

Conversely, local planning authorities (LPAs) prefer affordable housing to be secured through the legal agreement. That’s principally because it can provide more certainty over when and how affordable units will come forward.

The solution

We understand the council’s position so work proactively to build a positive working relationship from the outset and provide sufficient detail to reach agreement that affordable housing can be secured by planning condition. 

We advise naming the RP as a joint applicant and submit a detailed affordable housing statement providing information about the type, tenure and location of affordable housing plots. In these ways, we provide certainty and comfort to LPAs about what is going to be built, when, and by whom.

Barrier two: understanding the genuine need for affordable housing 

We often have to grapple with an out-of-date evidence base on the need for, and delivery of affordable housing in an area; an issue that was compounded when the legal requirement to report annually was removed through the Localism Act. 

It can make it difficult to drill down into what specific type, tenure and size of affordable housing is needed in any given area, and inevitably causes issues when a planning application is submitted with a different affordable housing offer to that set out in policy. 

The solution

It’s all about anticipating likely concerns from receiving officers. 

There can often be a breakdown in communication between a council’s planning and housing teams, with planning policy not reflecting the true affordable needs of an area. So, working with the partnered RP, and engaging with the council’s housing team, we seek to understand the up-to-date picture so that the type, tenure and size proposed is appropriate to meet genuine need.  

Barrier Three: finding the right sites for the right homes 

Beyond meeting an identified affordable housing need at the local authority level, developers and RPs need to find the right sites that also address a wider spectrum of spatial considerations. Easier said than done.

The solution

As early as the site acquisition stage, we advise on the planning prospects for securing housing on potential development sites and make sure that we not only consider the need for affordable homes, but also the needs of future residents.

That includes considering the affordability of an area and the nature of the existing housing stock – which ultimately feeds into conversations about the appropriate affordable housing tenure – as well as understanding a site’s accessibility to public transport and its relationship to key services and schools, which are all critical for addressing social inequalities. 

Finding the right site results in a scheme that genuinely accommodates the future needs of residents which, of course, strengthens the wider planning case and its passage through the planning system. 

Communication is key

It can be all too easy to assume that planning officers and applicants are on opposite teams, but the fact is that everyone around the table wants to deliver housing which meets a genuine need.

It’s something we can all agree on.

The key is to communicate the site-specific challenges clearly so that parties can be brought together to deliver results.

Whether it’s in the written planning submission – through succinct and helpful supporting documents, or through building a collaborative and positive dialogue between the applicants and planning officers, we know that communication is key in order to achieve a smoother planning process.

It often demands a bespoke solution, and always requires a proactive outlook to achieve collaboration between parties. It’s why we see ourselves as the guide in our client’s quest to securing planning consent. 

If you need an experienced planning consultant that understands the finer details of how to secure the right on-site affordable housing, get in touch and let us help you achieve your objectives.