PLANNING – HOUSING – LOCAL GOVERNMENT
AFFORDABLE HOUSING : CORE STRATEGY : PLANNING POLICY : REGIONAL SPATIAL
STRATEGIES : RATIONALITY OF LOCAL PLANNING AUTHORITY’S AFFORDABLE HOUSING POLICY : s.20 PLANNING AND COMPULSORY PURCHASE ACT 2004
A local planning authority’s affordable housing policy paid due regard to national policy and to the relevant regional spatial strategy and was not irrational.
The applicant developer (B) applied to quash the adoption by the first respondent local planning authority of its policy entitled “Housing Mix, Affordability & Quality”. The policy formed part of the local authority’s core strategy. It provided for a target whereby 30 per cent of new dwellings in two categories of development should comprise affordable housing. Before its adoption, it had been submitted to a planning inspector for independent examination under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 s.20.
The planning inspector recommended the adoption of the policy. She concluded that the composite strategic housing market assessment documents, including the economic viability appraisal that had been prepared, “represented robust and credible evidence of the nature of the strategic housing markets affecting Wakefield, the level of need for affordable housing, the economic viability of the submitted thresholds, and percentages for affordable housing delivery that met the requirements of PPS 3 and PPS 12”. B argued that the policy imposed an unrealistic target and that it did not pay due regard to national policy and to the relevant regional spatial strategy.
HELD: (1) The case raised the practical question of what approach local authorities and inspectors formulating local development plans could legitimately adopt when national policy for the provision of affordable housing was temporarily undermined by current economic conditions.
(2) The policy was not happily drawn and had the capacity to confuse. Properly construed, however, it was not undeliverable and inflexible, as B had argued. The 30 per cent target applied only to the minimum qualifying thresholds defined, namely (a) a development of 15 or more dwellings, or on a site of 0.5 hectares or more, located within an urban area or local service centre, and (b) a development of six or more dwellings, or on a site of 0.2 hectares or more, located within a village. Further, even in the case of sites in those categories, whether any affordable housing was provided and how much would depend on negotiation between the local authority and the developer in the market conditions then prevailing.
(3) The policy did pay due regard to national policy and to the relevant regional spatial strategy. It set a justifiable target for sites above a workable threshold limit, recognising that the target was achievable only in certain economic conditions. Application of the policy that affordable housing should be provided where possible meant that provision had to depend on the exigencies both of the site and of market conditions at the time the application for permission was made. The policy provided the flexibility required by making the target subject to negotiation. T
he alternative, namely to provide stepped percentages based on variable economic conditions, was unworkable and doomed to failure because of the difficulties of accurate prediction and definition. Having regard to the need for affordable housing, this had been the best that the inspector could do in unusual and unstable economic times. It was an undeniable consequence that, while national policy wished to provide both improved targets to deliver affordable housing and developers with the requisite degree of certainty for the purposes of planning development, current economic conditions had, at least for the time being, undermined policy. However, it could not be said that the solution adopted in this case was irrational.
 EWHC 3208 (Admin)
BARRATT DEVELOPMENTS PLC v (1) WAKEFIELD METROPOLITAN DISTRICT COUNCIL
(2) SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMUNITIES & LOCAL GOVERNMENT (2009)
QBD (Admin) (Pitchford J) 10/12/2009