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National Guidance changed on thresholds for rural affordable housing

In a very welcome revision to the National Planning Practice Guidance, Local Planning Authorities are again able to set their own thresholds for affordable housing in designated rural areas. 
It goes a long way to meet calls for change by rural local authorities faced with having to forego affordable housing that would have been delivered on small rural sites.  The next step is to widen its application to the almost 70% of smaller parishes that are left out of this change.

The revision was made in September 2019 and states:

“In designated rural areas local planning authorities may instead choose to set their own lower threshold in plans and seek affordable housing contributions from developments above that threshold. Designated rural areas applies to rural areas described under section 157(1) of the Housing Act 1985, which includes National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”  Paragraph: 023 Reference ID: 23b-023-20190901 https://www.gov.uk/guidance/planning-obligations

Paragraph 63 of the NPPF remains unchanged, but the NPPG provides clarification of what the rural exemption means.  This sits alongside the NPPF’s provisions (paragraph 62) that planning policy can expect affordable housing contributions to be met on site, with two qualifiers.  As the NPPF the NPPG are material considerations the revision gives national policy backing for LPAs to set an affordable housing threshold of less than 10 dwellings in their designated rural areas.   As with any policy this will need to be supported by evidence of affordable housing needs and viability assessments to test what level of affordable housing contributions can be taken from small sites.

Since the national 10 unit threshold was introduced in 2014 rural local authorities and those responsible for delivering rural affordable housing have called for local planning authorities to set their own thresholds.  They have presented evidence of the devastating impact it has had on rural affordable housing delivery.  Most recently this has been confirmed by a survey of RSN members undertaken in the autumn of 2019. 

Download the Impact of National Policy for Affordable Housing Thresholds on the Delivery of Rural Affordable Housing: Report of Rural Services Network Survey here

But whilst welcome, the revision is only a partial success.   The chosen definition of designated rural areas still means that LPAs cannot apply the lower thresholds in  almost 70% of parishes of 3,000 or less population.   For most rural local authorities the pragmatic approach would be to define rural areas as all parishes of 3,000 population or less and all parishes in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It is clear that the government has listened to rural concerns and the preparation of the Planning White Paper provides an opportunity to seek the crucial change in the definition. Now is maybe a time to check how much of your area is designated under the S157 Housing Act and if it leaves out many of your smaller parishes you could raise this with your MP.   It is certainly a case that RSN with other rural interest groups will continue to make.

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