You’ve got no evidence!

Following the Planning Inspectorate’s apology to Richmond upon Thames council for inconsistent decision-making we are keeping a close eye on inspectors’ conclusions in respect of the requirement for affordable housing contributions on small sites.

Readers will no doubt be aware that the Written Ministerial Statement of November 2014 stipulated that affordable housing contributions should not be sought on residential schemes comprising fewer than ten units or less than 1,000 square metres of floorspace. Upholding Richmond’s complaint, PINS clarified the issue of the weight to be given to the WMS as follows:

“Local policies still have weight as the starting point from S.38(6) and the WMS comes into play as a material consideration which post-dates the plan, and which has to be balanced against the plan and the evidence base supporting the LPA’s application of the policy.  The decision maker therefore has discretion in applying his or her judgment as to where the balance should lie, drawing on the evidence presented.”

As a point of interest we thought we would look at a couple of recent decisions in other local authority areas where permission was sought for small residential developments without affordable housing contributions, and see how they fared when tested against PINS’ current advice. Both inspectors appear to follow the advice faultlessly but the outcomes differ, one being allowed, the other being dismissed. For local authorities the point to note is that it all comes down to evidence.

In the first case, (DCS Number 400-014-658), the council stated that the appeal site fell within the most unaffordable area of the country and that this, coupled with higher dependence upon smaller sites, justified a departure from government policy, and consequently development plan policies should continue to be applied. The inspector found, however, that there was no substantive evidence before her to support the council’s position in this respect. She allowed the appeal.

In (DCS Number 400-014-681), on the other hand, the inspector recorded that the council’s appeal statement outlined detailed evidence of continuing worsening trends in respect of severe affordability issues in the borough, with an extremely adverse relationship between house prices and rents on the one hand and typical incomes on the other, in an area of acknowledged severe deprivation. The evidence also explained the critical role that development of small sites had to play in the delivery of new housing in a densely built urban borough, with over one third of new provision coming from sites of 10 units or fewer. He dismissed the appeal.

So, be careful to ensure that claims relating to local affordability issues are substantiated by evidence.

The following DCP section is relevant: 8.2354

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