Earlier this month, a planning inspector blocked a developer's attempt to remove the affordable housing requirement from a scheme to build 20 homes in a Worcestershire village. The developer had sought to use an appeal mechanism introduced by the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 to remove the affordable housing requirement in its entirety. David Addison is principle planning officer at Wychavon District Council, which won the case.
Q. How did you first get involved in the application?
A. I only became involved at the appeal stage, after the developer applied to amend the affordable homes requirement.
Q.What was the dispute about?
A. The original application was for 20 dwellings, but our current local plan policy requires 40 per cent affordable homes. The developer wasn’t prepared to provide any, arguing the scheme wouldn’t be viable. It also presented an alternative proposal to increase the size of the homes, but this would have contravened another of our policies that looks to provide a mix of home sizes, so we felt that wasn’t an option either. We had some discussions on a compromise but we were too far apart.
Q. What happened then?
The developer went to the Planning Inspectorate to resolve the issue, using the Growth and Infrastructure Act provisions. We knew we would only have two weeks to provide our statements so had already done some work. We appointed a district valuer to assess the developer’s figures.
Q. What did the report say?
A. The valuer agreed that 40 per cent affordable housing was unlikely to be viable, but a lower percentage – around 20 per cent would be. The viability had been affected partly because the land value had shot up after we granted conditional planning permission for the scheme.
Q. What happened at the appeal?
A. We had an oral hearing in June that lasted one day where each side submitted statements to the inspector beforehand. At the hearing both sides answered questions from the inspector. It took less than four weeks for the inspector to make a decision in our favour.
Q. What were the challenges and lessons you learnt from the process?
A. As a planning officer, it was necessary to understand all the financial implications of a planning decision. I got to realise that planning decisions, whether positive or negative can have significant impacts on land values. I also learnt about construction costs – the underbelly of planning is all these financial workings.
We were one of the first councils to go through this process so it was difficult to find similar cases to help us interpret the rules. We did find one other decision.
As a result of the whole process we have started ask applicants or their agent when an application is submitted if they have qualms over viability. This helps us know what to expect and them to think about the viability more closely.