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Affordable Housing

Shropshire Council’s Planning Policies on affordable housing were recently affected by a judgment in the High Court which has caused many of our clients to re-think their position with regard to small scale developments.

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This judgment was handed down by the Court in July following legal action taken by West Berkshire District Council and Reading Borough Council who successfully sought Judicial Review of the Minister of State for Housing and Planning’s Written Ministerial Statement (WMS), which sought to limit the Council’s ability to seek affordable housing and/or financial contributions via “planning obligations” made under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for sites of 10 or less homes (or five or less homes in designated rural areas).

The Court declared the WMS to be unlawful and as a result the Government’s Planning Policy Guidance relating to planning obligations was immediately amended. We understand that the Minister’s lawyers have now submitted an appeal to pursue the issues in the Court of Appeal, to seek to have the High Court’s decision overturned, but in the meantime the Council is continuing to seek Section 106 Agreements and planning obligations to enforce their affordable housing policy in Shropshire.

National Scrutiny

The ruling affects Councils all over the country and there is national scrutiny of this issue, but the Courts decision ends a period during which the Council was reluctant to issue Planning Consents until it knew whether its policies would be seen as lawful. Following the judgment in July, Shropshire Council issued a robust statement on 5 August stating that they had been “extremely concerned at the effects the WMS would have on delivering affordable housing in the County”. The issue of the delivery of housing throughout Shropshire has been a challenging one for the Council, developers and communities over the last few years and the Council regards the Court ruling in the High Court as “a huge boost for the delivery of affordable housing locally, for the sustainability of Shropshire’s communities and for house building in general, by helping to remove uncertainty for developers on whether or not an affordable housing contribution is appropriate in Shropshire – ‘it is’.”

The development industry and affected land owners would take a different view knowing that if the Council cannot enforce affordable housing the value of prospective developments would increase.

Pending any appeal in the Court of Appeal we now at least have some certainty, but the Council has also recognised that planning policy and the complex legal issues surrounding it does not stand still and is always subject to change.

We are currently advising a number of developers on the implications of this for proposed developments and land where planning permission has been granted subject to affordable housing contributions.

If you have been affected by any of these issues please contact me and I'll be happy to discuss the current position and provide an update on the issues with you.