Class Distinctions 2: Student Housing

Happy freshers’ week. 
I blogged recently about how the planning system struggles when it comes to housing for older people. But there are worse problems when it comes to student housing. Some recent press articles are at the end of this post, but first you need to get through some law I’m afraid (there may be an examination on it later). 
For a start, from a legal perspective there is a similarly poor fit with the Use Classes Order.
Shared student living in converted houses has since 2010 (in England, 2016 in Wales) been hived off from use class C3 (residential use) into use class C4, the HMO (“houses in multiple occupation”) use class: “small shared houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom”.
This definition excludes: 
– HMOs in blocks of flats (eg what seems to be the main model these days in relation to purpose built student accommodation blocks, with clusters of self-contained flats, each housing six students, sharing cooking and living accommodation) 

– Houses shared by more than six students.

The background to the creation of C4, which was not all about students, but in part a response to concerns about pressures being caused to communities by high concentrations of HMOs more generally, is well summarised in a House of Commons library briefing paper, Houses in multiple occupation & planning restrictions (14 July 2017). 
By virtue of Part L of the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, unless the relevant local planning authority has made an article 4 direction to contrary effect, planning permission isn’t needed to change from C4 to C3 (residential use), or vice versa. Many university towns and cities have made article 4 directions, requiring planning permission to change from C3 to C4 use, for example Sheffield, Leeds, Loughborough, Leicester, Nottingham, Southampton and Durham to name but a few. 
Against the background of almost universal university expansion, this constraint on supply of converted accommodation, denying much of the already (in most areas at least) expensive PRS market to students, has surely played its part both in further increasing student housing costs and in giving students fewer practical alternatives to living in purpose-built student accommodation, often now built and operated by large specialist student housing providers. 
As far as the planning system is concerned, purpose built student housing blocks are generally treated as “sui generis” (outside any use class) and therefore specific planning policies are required at an individual local planning authority level to control them (or to impose standards in terms of unit size, daylighting and sound insulation). In some ways they now often more closely resemble clusters (stacked high) of quasi C4 HMO style accommodation, with bedrooms in self-contained clusters of six, each with its own kitchen and communal area. 
Planning permission is required to make a material change from a sui generis use. Whether there is a material change in the character of the use is for the decision maker to judge. As long as conditions or section 106 agreement planning obligations aren’t breached, change to, say, co-living may not require planning permission. 
Ensuring that purpose built student accommodation is affordable is a big issue. In recent years we have seen student rent strikes, supported by the NUS. In London, we wait to see what further controls will be proposed in the draft London Plan, now expected on 29 November. In the meantime, there was nothing in the Mayor’s draft housing strategy published on 6 September 2017 (in 236 pages I could only find one passing reference to students). To what extent will the policies set out in the previous Mayor’s March 2016 housing SPG remain? The SPG takes the following approach in relation to purpose built student accommodation (PBSA):

– “providers of PBSA are encouraged to develop models for delivery of PBSA in london which minimise rental costs, via its layout and location, for the majority of the bedrooms in the development and bring these rates nearer to the rate of a affordable student accommodation described below
– requirement for affordable student accommodation where a proposed provider does not have an undertaking with a specified academic institution(s) that specifies that the accommodation will be occupied by students of that institution(s)

– affordability determined by reference to a formula that equates to 55% of average student income. For the academic year 2016/2017 this equated to £5,886 or less and for a 38 week contract a weekly rent of £155. 

– the extent of affordable housing to be secured “should be the maximum reasonable amount subject to viability” (our old friend!)

– to enable PBSA providers to maximise the delivery of affordable student accommodation by increasing the profitability of the development, boroughs should consider allowing the temporary use of accommodation during vacation periods for ancillary uses and should consider setting nil CIL rates for affordable student accommodation. 

– eligibility for affordable student accommodation should be based on assessment of need. 

Now that reading list:

Oliver Wainwright, A new urban eyesore: Britain’s shamefully shoddy student housing (The Guardian, 11 September 2017)

Rhiannon Bury, Student housing may be a property bubble in waiting (Telegraph, 18 September 2017)

Could it be the end of the Newcastle student flat boom? Council set to vote on greater controls (Evening Chronicle? 15 January 2017)

Letter: Students vs Residents – this situation in Bath around housing is not students’ fault (Bath Chronicle, 5 September 2017)

Students in Wales taking out loans to afford ‘luxury’ flats (BBC website, 22 September 2017)

It seems to me that there are various issues to be unpacked here:
– the need for authorities properly to plan for the consequences of increases in student numbers

– competing needs as between between student and general needs housing

– often unjustified “there goes the neighbourhood” concerns about the impacts of students on an area. 

– affordability

– the extent to which universities should retain responsibility for housing their students, affordably and to appropriate quality standards.

Class, discuss. 
Simon Ricketts, 24.9.17
Personal views, et cetera

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Policing The SPG: New Scotland Yard

Pour encourager les autres or an early demonstration of zero tolerance? 

The Mayor of London’s direction of refusal on 4 September 2017 in relation to a section 73 application to amend a 2016 planning permission for redevelopment of the former Metropolitan Police’s headquarters, so soon after publication of the final version of his affordable housing and viability SPG (see my 20 August 2017 blog post, 20 Changes In The Final Version Of The London Mayor’s Housing & Viability SPG) has certainly focused minds. 

The sale of New Scotland Yard was reported in the Guardian in December 2014 under the headline “Daylight robbery? New Scotland Yard is bought for £370m by developer: Abu Dhabi investor buys famous police headquarters for £370m and says he will replace the block with luxury apartments”. The piece reports that the then Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime “put New Scotland Yard on the market in September [2014] and said it would have cost over £50m to bring the building back up to standard. It bought the freehold for £123.5m in 2008. The sale forms part of a major revamp of the Met estate, which has raised £215m so far through the sale of 52 buildings (with plans to sell up to 200 buildings by 2016/17). The overhaul is estimated to save over £60m in annual running costs by 2016.” The then Metropolitan Police Commissioner was reported as saying that the sale was “absolutely vital“. The move was going to save more than £6m a year in running costs. The sale proceeds “would be used to kit out bobbies on the beat with tablets, smartphones and body cameras.”

The piece reports the sale agent as saying that the sale showed “continuing international confidence in the London market”. “What was clear was that all the bidders could appreciate just what a special opportunity it was”. 
The article goes on: “The new luxury apartments are expected to generate up to £100m in stamp duty when they are sold, as they will be priced over the £925,000 level that attracts a 10% rate.”
The police vacated the building in November 2016 once the purchaser, BL Development Limited (registered in Jersey but reported in the press as “an investment vehicle controlled by UAE-based Abu Dhabi Financial Group”) obtained planning permission from Westminster City Council in April 2016 for a redevelopment comprising 268 apartments. The section 106 agreement dated 27 April 2016 provides for ten affordable homes together with a £10m payment in lieu – and no review mechanism, so a once and for all deal. 
The previous Mayor, Boris Johnson, did not intervene in the planning process. Indeed, the timing rather suggests that the application was referred to him in the run up to the 5 May 2016 Mayoral election and conveniently planning permission was issued before Sadiq Khan’s success in that election.  
I do not know how rigorous or otherwise the viability assessment was at that stage, but it does seem that the benchmark land value used was £277m, some way below the amount that the developer had to pay in reality to secure the site. The sale of this public sector land generated £370m, a figure which would otherwise have come from the tax payer to subsidise police operations. The developer was going into the viability negotiation only able to assume a value for the site that was almost £100m below what it had paid, so it could hardly be said that the whole of the problem lies at the door of the developer for having overpaid for the site in a highly competitive disposal process. 
The Mayor could of course have required as a condition of the sale process that the purchaser provide a minimum of affordable housing and thereby depressed everyone’s bids, and ultimately the sale price, accordingly. He didn’t – a political choice. 
The same month as the police leave the building, November 2016, BL Development Limited make a section 73 application to optimise the scheme – a further 27 apartments, reduced basement space, fewer car parking spaces, other design changes. Its viability assessment seeks to justify (a position accepted by Westminster City Council’s viability consultants) that no further affordable housing can be secured without the scheme being unviable, meaning a reduction in the percentage of affordable housing that would be delivered (net of the in lieu contribution) from 4% to 3%.
Westminster City Council resolves on 16 May 2017 to approve the application, despite strong concerns expressed by the Mayor at stage 1 referral on 20 March 2017. There is then a very long delay before the final stage of the process, namely stage 2 referral to the Mayor where he has a fixed 14 days’ period within which to decide whether to wave it through, call it in or direct refusal. I have no direct knowledge but I assume that discussions were continuing with the Mayor’s viability team to seek to neutralise their position and in any event to make process with the necessary variation to the section 106 agreement – perhaps also to await sight of the final version of the Mayor’s affordable housing and viability SPG. The Mayor’s SPG is published on 16 August and the application is finally referred on 24 August. On the day before the application was referred to the Mayor the applicant increases its affordable housing offer by one unit, on a “without prejudice” basis, on the condition that no viability review mechanism would be required.  
Big stakes for the developer. Is the Mayor going to intervene on such a high profile site which has generated a massive return for his authority? But, on the other hand, how would he maintain credibility in his SPG without intervening on a scheme with, at face value and without descending in detail into the viability position, such a low level of affordable housing, both as originally granted (just before he could do anything about it) and (particularly) as amended?
The application was a natural one to choose from the Mayor’s perspective as it gives rise to a number of the issues addressed in the SPG, for instance:
– approach to section 73 applications

– current affordable housing commitment well below 35% threshold

– issues in relation to assessment of assumed land value, projected sales rates and profit

– land formerly in public ownership

The Mayor’s direction states that the “level of affordable housing provision proposed is wholly unacceptable” for two reasons:

Affordable housing provision: The proposed affordable housing contribution of 10 intermediate units (3.3% by unit, 2.9% by habitable room) and £10 million off-site payment in lieu has not been adequately justified. The methodology undertaken by the applicant to assess the viability of the scheme is not in compliance with the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG and leads the GLA to conclude that more affordable housing could be supported within the scheme. On the basis of the evidence presented, the applicant has not demonstrated that the scheme will deliver the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing, and the proposals are therefore contrary to London Plan Policy 3.12 and the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG. 

Viability review mechanism: No provision has been made in the draft s.106 agreement for viability review mechanisms. Given the low level of affordable housing proposed and the significant length of the development programme, the use of review mechanisms is essential in order to reassess the viability of the scheme and determine whether additional affordable housing could be supported. The absence of viability review mechanisms does not therefore support the delivery of the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing on the site, and is contrary to London Plan Policy 3.12 and the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG.”

The stage 2 report sets out GLA officers’ “significant concerns with the applicant’s approach to the assessment of the viability of the scheme…These include the applicant’s approach to land value, sales rates and profit”. 

So what were the problems identified?
1. The applicant’s viability consultants argued that the 2016 permission had been implemented and that it should should form the basis of comparison with the amended scheme to determine whether it is viable. The 2016 permission viability assessment had previously concluded that the 2016 permission scheme was not viable even with no affordable housing. The applicant had since reviewed its assessment of that scheme and asserted that it was now in fact viable due to assumptions as to lower build costs, lower finance costs and a lower profit target, leading to a higher benchmark land value (£159.34m). When the extant scheme is being used as the baseline for the section 73 scheme, obviously improvements in the viability of the extant scheme raise the bar in terms of how profitable the section 73 scheme would need to be. The report found that this approach was inappropriate “and leads GLA officers to conclude that more affordable housing could have been achieved within the extant scheme, or otherwise that the extant scheme does not provide a reasonable basis for determining the viability of this s. 73 scheme”.
2. The Council’s viability consultants do not escape criticism. They had adopted a market value approach to arrive at a benchmark land value of £200m but, in the view of GLA officers, the consultants had “not demonstrated that their approach to site value properly reflects planning requirements for affordable housing or has been adjusted to ensure that it is compatible with the current day basis of the applicant’s assessment, as required by the Mayor’s SPG”. 

3. The applicant’s appraisal apparently did not factor in a £19.5m reduction in build costs due to a reduction in the size of the basement. 

4. An IRR (internal rate of return) approach was taken to determining a target profit. The SPG states that an IRR approach “is sensitive to the timings of costs and income, and in such cases these value inputs must be robustly justified“. The report finds that the development programme assumed for the project of 8.4 years was long for a scheme of this size and inconsistent with the construction plan submitted with the ES. Slower assumed delivery would depress the profitability of the scheme. A cross-check of profit as a factor of gross development value and of gross development costs (now required by the SPG where IRR is used) showed higher than typical rates of profit. An additional contingency on construction costs was included which was not agreed. 

5. The absence of early and late stage review mechanisms was deprecated. The developer unsuccessfully argued that to include them would be a disincentive to proceed with the section 73 scheme, as opposed to the extant scheme, which does not have them.

6. There is then this political point which I feel uneasy about given the extent to which the previous Mayor had extracted value from the site via the disposal process: “This is a site that has recently been transferred from public ownership, and is in one of the highest value areas in the country. The applicant’s affordable housing offer of 3-4% must be considered in this context.”

So what next? BL Development will need to decide whether to (1) appeal against the directed refusal (which would be a fascinating test of the status to be given to the SPG and indeed the robustness or otherwise of the various viability approaches) (2) sharpen its pencil with a view to a further application or (3) simply build out the extant scheme, fewer units, the agreed affordable housing provision, no review mechanism. 
More widely there are some public policy issues arising as to public land disposals. Maximum value can be extracted at the disposal stage or the disposal opportunity can be used to require, as a bid condition, higher levels of affordable housing than would be possible if the site were sold on an unconstrained basis. But (pace Boris Johnson) you shouldn’t be able to have your cake and eat it. 
Simon Ricketts, 9.9.17
Personal views, et cetera

20 Changes In The Final Version Of The London Mayor’s Affordable Housing & Viability SPG

The final version of Sadiq Khan’s supplementary planning guidance on affordable housing and viability was published on 16 August 2017. I had previously blogged on the November 2016 draft. 

For internal purposes at Town we have prepared a tracked version, showing the differences. There are many, mostly tightening up the language, but also with some material additions and changes of emphasis.

This blog post focuses on 20 of what appear to me to be material changes from the position I summarised last year: 
1. 50% affordable threshold for public land

The threshold for the ‘fast track route’, where viability information is not required, nor review mechanisms as long as an agreed level of progress is made following the grant of permission, remains at 35% for schemes on private sector owned land. However a higher threshold of 50% has been introduced for land “in public ownership or public use” where grants are not available.

“2.33  It is widely recognised that land in public ownership should make a significant contribution towards the supply of new affordable housing. Land that is surplus to public sector requirements typically has a low value in its current use, allowing higher levels of affordable housing to be delivered. For these reasons the Mayor has an expectation that residential proposals on public land should deliver at least 50 per cent affordable housing to benefit from the Fast Track Route. 


2.34  Where a public landowner has an agreement in place with the Mayor to provide 50 per cent affordable homes across a portfolio of sites, individual sites which meet or exceed the 35 per cent affordable housing threshold and required tenure split may be considered under the Fast Track Route. Where such an agreement is not in place, schemes that do not provide 50 per cent affordable housing will be considered under the Viability Tested Route. 


2.35  Where 50 per cent affordable housing is delivered on public land, the tenure of additional affordable homes above the 35 per cent is flexible and should take in to account the need to maximise affordable housing provision. 


2.36  This will apply to land that is owned or in use by a public sector organisation, or a company or organisation in public ownership, or land that has been released from public ownership and on which housing development is proposed.

Is the definition in paragraph 2.36 specific enough? What are companies or organisations in public ownership? What if the land was released from public ownership long ago?

2. Specific advice in relation to section 73 applications

2.14  For schemes that were approved under the Fast Track Route, any subsequent applications to vary the consent will not be required to submit viability information, provided that the resulting development continues to meet the 35 per cent threshold and required tenure split, and does not otherwise result in a reduction in affordable housing or housing affordability. 


2.15  For schemes where the original permission did not meet the 35 per cent threshold or required tenure split, or where a proposed amendment would cause it to no longer meet these criteria, viability information will be required where an application is submitted to vary the consent and this would alter the economic circumstances of the scheme (for example resulting in a higher development value or lower costs). Such schemes will be assessed under the Viability Tested Route to determine whether additional affordable housing can be provided.

2.16  Proposed amendments that result in a reduction in affordable housing, affordability or other obligations or requirements of the original permission should be rigorously assessed under the Viability Tested Route. In such instances a full viability review should be undertaken that reconsiders the value, costs, profit requirements and land value of the scheme. The Mayor should be consulted where a scheme amendment is proposed that changes the level of affordable housing from that which was secured through the original planning permission.”


There is a risk that the inevitable minor amendments that come forward after grant of planning permission, with less than a material effect on the economic circumstances of a scheme, will lead to the need for updated viability information if paragraph 2.15 is to be applied strictly. This could lead to delays, or to scheme amendments not being pursued if the borough is not prepared to accept that they are non material amendments that can be secured under section 96A.

3. Greater emphasis on viability transparency

The draft guidance already indicated that viability information “should be available for public scrutiny and comment like all other elements of a planning application“. The new guidance ratchets this up a further level:

– “boroughs should implement procedures which promote greater transparency where not already in place”. 

– in submitting viability information, applicants “should also provide a summary of the financial viability assessment which outlines key findings, inputs, and conclusions to assist review by the LPA, Mayor, and members of the public.”

Applicants will still have the opportunity to “argue that limited elements should be confidential, but the onus is on the applicant to make this case“.

4. Habitable floorspace cross-check
Whilst the percentage of affordable housing should be measured in habitable rooms, there is this additional advice:

“Habitable rooms in affordable and market elements of the scheme should be of comparable size when averaged across the whole development. If this is not the case, then it may be more appropriate to measure the provision of affordable housing using habitable floorspace. Applicants should present affordable housing figures as a percentage of total residential provision by habitable rooms, by units, and by floorspace to enable comparison.”

5. Sensible flexibility regarding fast track approach

The draft guidance indicated that in order to follow the fast track approach, even if a scheme offered the threshold level of affordable housing, it was required to “meet all of the other relevant policy requirements and obligations”. The relevant passage now refers to meeting “other obligations and requirements to the satisfaction of the LPA and the Mayor where relevant”.  

6. Greater emphasis on exploring the opportunity for public subsidies

“All schemes are expected to determine whether grant and other forms of subsidy are available and to make the most efficient use of this to increase the level of affordable housing delivered. All applicants are expected to work with the LPA, the Mayor, and Registered Providers (RPs) to ensure affordable housing from all sources is maximised.”

The guidance is intended to be “integrated with the approach to funding set out in the Mayor’s guidance to his Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021 .

Funding is said to be available on a fixed grant-per-unit basis:

2.24  Where developer-led schemes can provide or exceed 40 per cent affordable housing (with grant) then the fixed grant per unit will be available on all affordable housing units in the scheme. 


2.25  Where developer-led schemes are delivering less than 40 per cent, grant will only be available for the additional affordable homes over and above
the baseline level of affordable housing shown as being viable on a nil-grant basis.”

“2.28  Where public subsidy is available to increase the level of affordable housing on a scheme the tenure of additional affordable homes above the 35 per cent is flexible but should take into account the need to maximise affordable housing provision through the available public subsidy.”


7. Build To Rent

The final version of the guidance retains the Mayor’s support for build to rent. Some additional elements have been spelt out in his “build to rent” definition. As well as being a development of at least 50 units, with a build to rent covenant of at least 15 years, with self-contained units, operated under unified ownership and management, the development must:

” • offer longer tenancies (three years or more) to all tenants, with break clauses that allow the tenant to end the tenancy with a month’s notice any time after the first six months; 


* offer rent certainty for the period of the tenancy, the basis of which should be made clear to the tenant before a tenancy agreement is signed, including any annual increases which should always be formula-linked; 


* include on-site management, which does not necessarily mean full-time dedicated on-site staff, but must offer systems for prompt resolution of issues and some daily on-site presence; 


* be operated by providers who have a complaints procedure in place and are a member of a recognised ombudsman scheme; and 


* not charge up-front fees of any kind to tenants or prospective tenants, other than deposits and rent-in-advance.

There is more detailed guidance about the clawback arrangement if units in the scheme cease to be available as BTR:

“4.14  In line with the Mayor’s approach to affordable housing on Build to Rent schemes, and to ensure that there is no financial incentive to break a covenant, planning permission should only be granted where the scheme is subject to a clawback agreement. The appropriate clawback amount will be the difference between the total value of the market rent units based on the viability assessment at application stage, and those units valued on a ‘for sale’ basis at the point of sale. The LPA should be notified of the sale price of units that are sold and this should inform the market value of remaining units to determine the clawback. The clawback amount must demonstrate a sufficient difference in the value of units between rented and for sale tenures, consistent with the ‘distinct economics’ of build to rent, for the scheme to qualify for the Build to Rent pathway.

4.15  The clawback amount will be payable to the LPA for the provision of affordable housing in the event that market rented units are sold within
the covenant period, which would break the covenant. For larger phased schemes the LPA should consider whether the clawback amount should be disaggregated to the relevant block in which units are sold. The clawback amount should not reduce over time to ensure that the covenant remains effective for the full period. 


4.16  In the event that a share of rented units are sold, and the remaining units are retained within the rental market, an LPA may determine that the clawback 
is calculated based on the units sold. The other units will remain under covenant and the clawback will apply at the point of sale if disposed of within the covenant period. 


4.17  The clawback does not relate to any affordable units provided as part of the scheme. Affordable units are not subject to a minimum covenant period and must always be secured in perpetuity. Additionally, overall ownership of the building(s) in which the units are located may change during the covenanted period without triggering ‘clawback’ if the units remain in single ownership and management as Build to Rent.

Encouragingly, the guidance indicates that, as the sector develops, “the Mayor will keep under review whether it may be possible to set out a Fast Track Route specifically for developments following a Build to Rent pathway through the planning system.”


8. The “early review”

This is the review that the draft guidance stated was to be carried out when an agreed level of progress on implementing the scheme has not been achieved within two years of the permission being granted. The early review is also in the final version of the guidance, although with a little more flexibility: “within two years of the permission being granted or as agreed with the LPA”. 

Plans in the section 106 agreement “should identify which homes would switch to affordable accommodation in the event of an improvement in viability at this early stage”. 

All review mechanisms should generally set a cap on the amount of additional provision to be sought, which should be 50% affordable housing. Suggested formulae are set out in the guidance. 

9. Mid-term review

For applications that do not meet the 35%/50% threshold, as well as the early stage review there is the late stage review at the point at which 75% of units are sold or let (the review generating payments in lieu rather than an additional requirement for affordable housing in the scheme, and with the surplus split 60/40 between the borough and the developer). However, the final version of the guidance introduces the possibility of mid-term reviews for some schemes:

“For longer-term phased schemes it may also be appropriate to secure mid-term reviews prior to implementation of later phases and an updated Early Stage Review in the event that a scheme stalls for a period of 12 or more months following an Early Stage Review.”

10. Targets for registered providers

2.30  Generally the Mayor expects RP-led schemes to seek to deliver as much affordable housing as possible within the context of the requirements of London Plan policy 3.12. RPs with agreements with the Mayor have to deliver at least 50 per cent affordable housing across their programmes, and in the case of strategic partners 60 per cent. 


2.31  The approach to grant funding for approved provider-led schemes is set out in Mayor’s Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-21. 


2.32  RP-led schemes are likely to benefit from programme grant as set out in 2.30. Individual schemes which are led by RPs with an agreed programme with the Mayor can follow the Fast Track Route if they can commit to delivering a minimum of 35 per cent without grant. This should be set out in the Section 106 agreement along with the proportion of affordable housing which can be delivered with grant.”


11. Density opportunities

“2.37  Where a scheme meets the 35 per cent affordable housing threshold it may also be appropriate to explore the potential to increase densities on a case- by-case basis to enable the delivery of additional affordable homes where this meets exemplary design standards. It is for LPAs, and the Mayor where relevant, to consider the weight to be given to the benefit of additional affordable housing above the threshold, where this arises through increased densities or scale.”

12. Incentivising largely or entirely affordable housing schemes


2.42  To incentivise schemes that are largely or entirely affordable, those that propose 75 per cent affordable housing or more as defined by the NPPF may be considered under the Fast Track Route whatever their tenure mix, as long as the tenure and other relevant standards are supported by the LPA.”

13. Affordable housing requirements for co-living and student accommodation

As did the draft, the final version of the guidance sets out that”new types of non-self contained accommodation [the final version adds: “such as purpose-built shared accommodation“] can play a role in meeting housing need where they are of high quality and well designed.” These should not be classed as affordable provision (and nor should hostels). The final version of the guidance states:

“2.51…Affordable housing contributions on these schemes will be assessed through the Viability Tested Route, and should be provided as separate or off-site self- contained provision, or cash in lieu payments. 


2.52  Student accommodation developments will also be assessed under the Viability Tested Route. Affordable student accommodation should be provided onsite in line with the Mayor’s Housing SPG.”


14. More detailed guidance on off-site affordable housing and cash-in lieu contributions

The guidance stresses that “[v]iability alone is insufficient justification for off-site affordable housing provision or a cash in lieu payment” and goes on to set out in more detail than previously how off-site provision and cash-in-lieu payments are to be calculated:

2.61  Off-site affordable housing requirements will be calculated by reference to the total housing provision on the main development site and any linked sites providing off-site affordable housing. For the purposes of the initial assessment and viability reviews the policy target would equate to 50 per cent affordable housing provided across the main site and any linked sites providing affordable housing when considered as a whole. 


2.62  The starting point for determining in-lieu contributions should be the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing that could be provided on-site as assessed through the Viability Tested Route. The value of the in- lieu contribution should be based on the difference in Gross Development Value arising when the affordable units are changed to market units within the appraisal. This is to ensure that where the on-site component of
market housing is increased as a result of the affordable contribution being provided as a cash in-lieu payment, this does not result in a higher assumed profit level for the market homes within the assessment which would have the effect of reducing the affordable housing contribution. 


2.63  The maximum value of any in-lieu contribution, for the purposes of the
initial assessment and viability reviews (the policy cap), will be based on
the equivalent of 50 per cent affordable housing provision. As with off-site affordable housing provision (see above), the target will be a percentage of the on-site market housing taken together with additional affordable housing provided off-site. 


2.64  Where an LPA has established a locally based approach for determining in-lieu contributions, such as a tariff based approach, this may be applied where this would result in a higher level of affordable housing provision (or higher policy cap).”

15. More detailed advice on estate regeneration schemes

Existing affordable housing that would be lost in an estate regeneration scheme should be replaced on a like-for-like basis. The guidance clarifies that this means “that, for example, homes at social rent levels should be replaced with homes at the same or similar rent levels, or that specialist types of affordable housing should be replaced with the same type of housing. The Fast Track Route does not apply in these circumstances, and all estate regeneration schemes should follow the Viability Tested Route to deliver the re-provision of the existing affordable floorspace on a like-for-like basis and maximise additional affordable housing.”


There is also this new passage

“2.67  Where a borough is redeveloping an estate as part of a wider programme then it may be possible to re-provide a different mix of affordable housing
on the estate, taking account of the wishes of people who want to return to the estate, if the affordable housing is re-provided like-for-like or increased across the programme as a whole. This must also take account of the affordable housing requirements on the linked sites (i.e. it must be in addition to what the linked site would have delivered on its own). Further information on Estate Regeneration can be found in the Mayor’s Good Practice Guide.

16. Scheme delivery


There are these new passages:

3.10  Applicants should demonstrate that their proposal is deliverable and that their approach to viability is realistic. As such appraisals would normally be expected to indicate that the scheme does not generate a deficit, and that the target profit and benchmark land value can be achieved with the level of planning obligations provided. If an appraisal shows a deficit position the applicant should demonstrate how the scheme is deliverable. 


3.11  Where an applicant is seeking to rely on assumptions of growth in values these should be provided. For shorter-term non-phased schemes which are based on current day values and costs, growth assumptions should be included as a scenario test. 


3.12  For phased or longer-term schemes, it may be appropriate to include growth assumptions within the appraisal to ensure that this is realistic and that affordable housing is maximised. These should be informed by recognised market sources for the relevant area. Where this is the case viability review mechanisms will be required as set out in this guidance given the uncertainty in determining viability at the application stage. Higher profit targets should not be assumed which offset the benefits of this approach.”

17. Greater examination of costs information

Appraisals should set out the gross to net floorspace ratio of the proposed development. 

There are these additional passages as well:

3.23… Applicants should submit elemental cost plans that are consistent with the level of detail provided in the drawings in support of planning applications (i.e. RIBA Plan of Works Stage C). Wherever possible such assessments should be benchmarked against other similar projects. Where an appraisal is based on current day values, costs should not include build cost inflation. 

3.24  LPAs are strongly encouraged to use cost consultants to rigorously assess scheme proposals and verify whether costs are appropriate taking into account pricing, quantities, specification, and assumed development values. Consideration should also be given to scheme design and whether development costs could be reduced as part of a cost/ value assessment.”

“3.26  Professional and marketing fees should be justified taking account of the complexity of the development and development values. Costs applied on a percentage basis should be realistic when considering the monetary value of the assumed cost.”
17. Additional passages in relation to developer profit

“3.32 In line with PPG a rigid approach to assumed profit levels should be avoided and applicants cannot rely on typically quoted levels. 


3.33  Factors that may be relevant when assessing scheme-specific target profit levels include the scheme’s development programme, and whether it is speculative or provides pre-sold/ pre-let accommodation. Market forecasts and stock market trends may also provide an indication of perceived market-wide risk”. 

18. Greater flexibility as to the use of internal rate of return

The draft guidance set out an expectation that the IRR measure of return would not be used for schemes providing fewer than 1,000 units. This is gone, although where IRR is used, profit must also now be considered as a factor of gross development costs or gross development value.

19. Defining EUV and any premium 

The guidance clarifies that where “a proposed EUV is based on a refurbishment scenario, or a redevelopment of the current use, this is an alternative development scenario and the guidance relating to Alternative Use Value (AUV) will apply.”


There is this additional passage in relation to the quantification of any premium:

“The level of premium can be informed by benchmark land values that have been accepted for planning purposes on other comparable sites where determined on a basis that is consistent with this guidance.”
20. Advice on the use of market value

In the limited circumstances where a non EUV+ approach is acceptable, there is more detailed guidance on the use of transactional evidence to establish market value:

3.49  In the very limited circumstances where this approach may be justified,
an applicant must demonstrate that the site value fully reflects policy requirements, planning obligations, and CIL charges, and takes account of site-specific circumstances. Market land transactions used must be fully evidenced and justified as being genuinely comparable and consistent with the methodology applied in the viability assessment. These should also be used to determine whether the residual value of the scheme and cost and value inputs are realistic. The applicant should also consider the: 


- EUV; 

– the Residual Land Value assuming a policy compliant affordable housing offer; 

– the Residual Land Value based on an assumption of no affordable housing; and

– the Residual Land Value based on evidence from recent comparable market transactions. 


3.50  Land is valued on a current day basis; changes in circumstances since a site has been purchased are a factor of development risk. Land transactions may also be based on unrealistic assumptions regarding development density, changes of use, or planning obligations. Where site value does not take full account of the Development Plan or CIL charges, where market land transactions are not fully evidenced and genuinely comparable, or where transactions are based on a different methodology and have not been appropriately adjusted, reliance on market transactions will not be supported. 


3.51  If an applicant seeks to use an ‘alternative use value’ (AUV) approach it must fully reflect policy requirements. Generally the Mayor will only accept the use of AUV where there is an existing implementable permission for that use. Where there is no existing implementable permission, the approach should only be used if the alternative use would fully comply with development 
plan polices, and if it can be demonstrated that the alternative use could be implemented on the site in question and there is market demand for that use. 


3.52  In order to demonstrate the value of a policy compliant alternative that does not benefit from an implementable permission but does have a realistic prospect of achieving planning permission, the applicant should provide a detailed alternative proposal, incorporating current day costs and values. The applicant should also explain why the alternative use has not been pursued.”


In short, there’s a lot for us all to get our heads around. If I have missed anything, no doubt you will let me know…

Simon Ricketts, 20 August 2017

Personal views, et cetera

[Thank you, Rebecca Craig at Town Legal for rising to my initial “spot the difference” challenge].

Affordable Housing Tax

In requiring the developers of private housing schemes to contribute to the provision of affordable housing, the planning system has become a tax collection system, and an inefficient, opaque one at that. 
The OECD classifies  taxes as follows:
“… compulsory, unrequited payments to general government. Taxes are unrequited in the sense that benefits provided by government to taxpayers are not normally in proportion to their payments. 

The term “tax” does not include fines unrelated to tax offences and compulsory loans paid to government. […]

General government consists of supra-national authorities, the central administration and the agencies whose operations are under its effective control, state and local governments and their administrations, social security schemes and autonomous governmental entities, excluding public enterprises.
Participants in the planning system seem to accept the political policy choice that has been made: to require developers to subsidise the provision of affordable housing, whether by requiring them to dispose of land or built units to registered affordable housing providers at less than market value (and nowadays at less than cost, given the increasing scarcity of any public sector grants or other forms of subsidy) or to make financial payments towards the provision of affordable housing elsewhere in the area. 
The provision of market housing does not in any way increase the need for affordable housing, indeed over time by increasing supply if anything it should decrease it. It may be said that mixed use communities can only be achieved by requiring the inclusion of affordable housing within market residential schemes, but that in itself does not justify the state putting the cost of the affordable housing at the door of the developer. The only reason that affordable housing section 106 planning obligations meet the requirements of regulation 122 of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 (necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms; directly related to the development; and fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development) is because of local policies seeking such obligations, supported by national policy. Policy could have easily required development across the board to contribute to affordable housing – or another category of development other than market housing. Why shouldn’t we use plain language and describe the extent of subsidy on each scheme as a tax? Hypothecated it may be but it still surely meets that OECD definition. For the rest of this post I will refer to it as Affordable Housing Tax, AHT. 
How to calculate AHT? Frequently, the high proportion of affordable housing that is required to be provided in connection with a private market housing development, when taken with the other costs of that development (including CIL where chargeable, a more straight-forward and transparent tax – that’s how bad AHT is!), would render the project unviable and so AHT ends up being as much as can be extracted from a development whilst allowing it to go ahead, assuming a fixed capped profit level for the developer and a fixed capped land value for the land owner (often less than its “real” value or actual acquisition cost). 
Take London. The London Plan requires boroughs to seek to maximise affordable housing provision. The current Mayor has indicated that his “long-term aim is for half of all new homes to be affordable”. In his November 2016 draft affordable housing and viability SPG (the subject of my 1.12.16 blog post  ), he introduced a ‘threshold approach’, whereby schemes meeting or exceeding 35% (by habitable room) affordable housing without public subsidy will not be required to submit viability information. There are also minimum requirements as to the proportions of different types of affordable housing that will be required (“tenure split” in the affordable housing industry jargon that we have grown up with). For schemes that cannot meet the threshold, viability appraisal is required to justify how much affordable housing the scheme can deliver.
Imagine such a concept in any other sector:
1. The market produces goods which reduce the need for the state to provide a service, or which are at least neutral. 

2. The market is taxed on those goods, with the tax applied towards provision of that service, instead of that service being paid for by the state. 

3. The level of that tax differs according to location but will often equate to all profits arising from the production of the goods, less a capped profit and capped input cost. 

I’m expressing no view as to whether this process is right or wrong. However, I do feel that the underlying reality has been conveniently forgotten. And the collateral damage from AHT is:
1. loading complexity into the planning process, with local planning authorities having to fulfil both a tax assessment and tax collection role

2. encouraging bad outcomes, with developers incentivised to expend resources on AHT mitigation (complex affordable housing negotiations, arguments over tenures, viability appraisal)

3. reducing housing delivery by rendering some projects unviable. 

How did we get here? There is an interesting 2002 study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “Planning gain and affordable housing: making it count”, which starts with this brief history:

“Local authorities had been experimenting with ways of using the planning system to secure affordable housing in a number of areas in England in the 1970s, but official government endorsement first came in 1979 when the rural exceptions policy was announced. This enables rural planning authorities to grant planning consent for housing on sites that would not otherwise receive permission, provided that only affordable housing is developed on them
The approach was more widely sanctioned to enable affordable housing to be secured on all larger housing developments in 1981 and subsequently included in all Planning Policy Guidance on housing (PPG3) issued since then (DETR, 2000). Provided that local planning authorities have policies in their adopted statutory development plans that assess the need for new affordable housing in their districts, they may require private developers to contribute to meeting this need. They may also set specific targets to be achieved on sites allocated for new housing in adopted plans. When developers agree to make contributions these are made legally binding contracts, where they enter into agreements with the relevant planning authority under section 106 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act as part of the process of securing planning permission.”

“In 1998, the policy was amended, to reduce site thresholds above which contributions would normally be sought, and to link it more closely with the government’s policies on social inclusion, mixed communities and urban renaissance through on-site provision of affordable housing (DETR, 1998). In the 2000 version of PPG3, the government made it clear that developers’ unwillingness to make contributions to affordable housing would be an appropriate reason, of itself, to refuse planning permission (DETR, 2000). 

In the 2001 Green Paper on reform of the planning system the government proposed widening the scope of the affordable planning policy to incorporate small sites and commercial developments. It also proposed replacing negotiated contributions by standard authority- wide financial tariffs, which would still mainly be used for on-site provision. (DTLR, 2001a, 2001b).”
In my view, a significant turning point was paragraph 38 of PPG3 (1992): “A community’s need for affordable housing is a material consideration which may properly be taken into account in formulating development plan policies.”
This from an interesting 26 October 2011 paper  by Tim Mould QC:
At the time, the introduction of that policy provoked considerable controversy in planning circles. In Mitchell v Secretary of State, Roy Vandermeer QC sitting as a deputy High Court Judge held that a planning appeal decision based upon considerations of housing price and tenure was unlawful, on the ground that such considerations had nothing to do with the character and use of land. Had that view prevailed, the now conventional approach to delivering affordable housing through the planning process would have been dead in the water, considerations of price and tenure being part and parcel of the means whereby affordable housing is actually secured through the development control process. 

That view did not, however, prevail. The Court of Appeal overturned Mr Vandermeer’s decision. In Mitchell v Secretary of State [1994] 2 PLR 23, Saville LJ said (page 26G-H) : 

“On the law as it presently stands, therefore, the need for housing in a particular area is a planning purpose which relates to the character and use of land. Given that this is so, the proposition advanced on behalf of Mr Mitchell is that the need for a particular type of housing in an area is not a planning purpose which relates to the character of the use of land if that need is itself dictated or generated by considerations of cost or type of tenure. 

I cannot accept this argument. To my mind there is no sensible distinction to be drawn between a need for housing generally and a need for particular types of housing, whether or not the latter can be defined in terms of cost, tenure or otherwise. In each case the question is whether, as a matter of planning for the area under consideration, there is a need for housing which the grant or refusal of the application would affect. 

The fact that the need may be dictated by considerations of cost or type of tenure seems to me to be immaterial….
….the fallacy in the argument is that it simply confuses the need for housing (which on the authorities is a legitimate consideration) with the reasons for that need and concentrates exclusively on the latter while effectively ignoring the former. ”

Thereafter the national planning policy for the delivery of affordable housing through the planning process became encapsulated in a departmental circular devoted to that topic – DETR Circular 6/98 “Planning and Affordable Housing“. Building on the established materiality of the need for affordable housing, paragraph 1 of the circular required local planning authorities to investigate the degree of need for affordable housing in their area and, based on that evidence, to include in their local plans a policy for seeking an element of such housing on suitable sites. Such policies would then be material consideration in determining an application for planning permission.”

Tim then points to PPS3 (2005), which is even more specific as to what was required from developers: “planning authorities were required to set overall targets for affordable housing during the plan period based on (inter alia) the findings of a Strategic Housing Market Assessment; to include separate targets for social rented and intermediate housing; to specify the size and type of affordable housing likely to be needed in particular locations; to set out the range of circumstances in which affordable housing would be required; and to set out the approach to seeking developer contributions towards affordable housing provision in their area. There was further guidance on the provision of affordable housing in rural areas.”
As we then move forward to the publication in 2012 of the NPPF, the references to seeking developer contributions to affordable housing are lost. Not because the approach has changed but because by now this is just the system, isn’t it?
The NPPF simply says this about affordable housing, para 50:

“To deliver a wide choice of high quality homes, widen opportunities for home ownership and create sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities, local planning authorities should: 

    * plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes); 


    * identify the size, type, tenure and range of housing that is required in particular locations, reflecting local demand; and 


    * where they have identified that affordable housing is needed, set policies for meeting this need on site, unless off-site provision or a nancial contribution of broadly equivalent value can be robustly justified (for example to improve or make more effective use of the existing housing stock) and the agreed approach contributes to the objective of creating mixed and balanced communities. Such policies should be sufficiently exible to take account of changing market conditions over time“
 

Similarly, there is the assumption in the Government’s 2014 planning practice guidance, along with specific references later introduced into the document as to the circumstances in which affordable housing requirements should not be sought (reflecting the 28 November 2014 written ministerial statement that set out the small sites threshold and the vacant building credit). 

Throughout this period the availability of public subsidies to support the delivery of affordable housing has reduced.  
What an example of mission creep all of this is. How enticing for successive governments to restrict general taxation by progressively increasing the burden of paying for affordable housing onto private sector residential development. 
The political sleight of hand goes further: recognising the financial impact that this responsibility places on residential development, beneath the headline proportions of affordable housing that are sought, the definition of affordable housing has been adjusted to the disadvantage of those in most need of it:
– first with the introduction of affordable rent rather than social rent (see the House of Commons Library briefing paper dated 7 May 2015), affordable rent being a reduction of at least 20% on market rent as opposed to social rent’s generally lower, fixed rent, levels
– more recently with consultation on widening the definition of affordable housing to include “starter homes” and also, for build to rent development, discount market rent (see my 4.3.17 blog post). 

One advantage of calling a tax a tax would be that we could then have an honest conversation as to whether it is right that CIL always has priority over AHT. That 15% of CIL that is for neighbourhoods to apply (25% where a neighbourhood plan is in place) – can’t AHT take priority over that? Indeed, given that neighbourhood slice doesn’t even have to be spent on the provision of infrastructure (but on either “the provision, improvement, replacement, operation or maintenance of infrastructure” or “anything else that is concerned with addressing the demands that development places on an area”), why not advise that in areas of particular need of affordable housing the neighbourhood slice should automatically go toward affordable housing?
Of course the very term “affordable housing” is politician-speak. After all, all housing is affordable to some and unaffordable to others. Don’t we really mean “subsidised housing”, “low income housing” or “public housing”? I’m surprised indeed we haven’t yet seen it rebranded as “community housing”. 
But what other approach could be taken to securing it, other than the present one?
An interesting exercise would be to calculate, nationally or authority area by authority area, the annual level of AHT that is secured from developers by way of section 106 obligations (some useful national figures to begin with are within Annex A of the Government’s May 2016 starter homes consultation paper) and then to work out what that might equate to if it became an across the board (all development, not just housing) CIL-type charge. As I say, why should the cost of affordable housing solely fall on residential development? Indeed, arguably it is employment development that adds more directly to the need for homes. 
Indeed, as part of any review of CIL, doesn’t the concept of a Community Housing and Infrastructure Levy, or CHIL, have a ring to it?
Furthermore, whilst there is a much bigger role for local authorities to play in delivering affordable housing, direct and in conjunction with registered providers and the private sector (and potentially with a greater focus on neighbourhood, community, participation in delivery and management), why not turn the system on its head and boost production by making it positively in the developer’s interest to deliver affordable housing, through offering tax credits? This has been the US model, via the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), ironically now under threat due to Trump’s proposed tax changes (see for example Bloomberg piece Trump Corporate Tax Shakeup Puts Housing Developers in Tailspin 26 April 2017). 

Or do we have it right with our present system? Question. 
Simon Ricketts 28.5.17
Personal views, et cetera

Definitely Maybe: Defining Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is defined in the NPPF as follows:
The Government carried out a consultation  in December 2015, proposing that the definition be expanded so as to include

– low cost ownership models, which “would include products that are analogous to low cost market housing or intermediate rent, such as discount market sales or innovative rent to buy housing”
– starter homes (of which more later). 

Two further changes were proposed in the February 2017 response to consultation:  
* introduction of a household income eligibility cap of £80,000 (£90,000 for London) on starter homes. 

* introduction of affordable private rented housing

The Government is accordingly consulting until 2 May 2017 on the following replacement definition for the NPPF (long isn’t it?):


Starter homes

There were howls of anguish at the starter homes initiative as first unveiled by the Government, the key elements of which were (as set out in chapter 1 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and March 2016 technical consultation):
– a legal requirement that 20% of new homes in developments should be starter homes, ie
– to be sold at a discount of at least 20% to open market value to first time buyers aged under 40. 

– Price cap of £250,000 (£450,000 in London)

– The restriction should last for a defined number of years, the first suggestion being five years, replaced with the concept of a tapered restriction to potentially eight years

– Commuted sums in lieu of on site provision for specified categories of development, eg build to rent

The obvious consequence would have been a significant reduction in the potential for schemes to include a meaningful proportion of traditional forms of affordable housing. 
After all of last year’s battles over the Bill, it is now plain from the Government’s response to the technical consultation, that the starter home concept is now much watered down:
– There will be no statutory requirement on local planning authorities to secure starter homes, just a policy requirement in the NPPF, which is to be amended accordingly. 

– Rather than requiring that 20% of new homes be starter homes, the requirement will be that 10% of new homes will be “affordable housing home ownership products” so could include shared equity or indeed low cost home ownership. 

– maximum eligible household income of £80,000 a year or less (or £90,000 a year or less in Greater London 

– 15 year restriction

– No cash buyers, evidence of mortgage of at least 25% loan to value

– It will only be applicable to schemes of ten units or more (or on sites of more than 0.5h). 

There will be a transitional period of 18 months (to August 2018) rather than the initially intended 6 to 12 months. 
Whilst we now have a more workable arrangement, plainly all that Parliamentary work was a complete waste of time. There was no need for chapter 1 of the 2016 Act – the current proposals can be delivered without any need for legislation. 
We will need to see the degree to which LPAs embrace the starter homes concept in reviewing their local plans. We will also need to be wary that we may lose the only benefit of a national standardised approach, ie the hope that there might be a standard set of section 106 clauses defining the operation of the mechanism (which will not be straightforward – see my 21.6.16 blog post Valuing Starter Homes). 
Affordable Private Rent
One of the documents accompanying the Housing White Paper was a consultation paper: Planning and affordable housing for build to rent.
The term Affordable Private Rent is now used for what we have all previously been calling Discounted Market Rent. Changes to the NPPF are proposed (subject to consultation) advising LPAs to consider asking for Affordable Private Rent in place of other forms of affordable housing in Build to Rent schemes, comprising a minimum of 20% of the homes in the development, at a minimum of 20% discount to local market rent (excluding use of comparables within the scheme itself), provided in perpetuity. The Affordable Private Rent housing would be tenure blind and representative of the development in terms of numbers of bedrooms. Eligible income bands are to be negotiated between developer and LPA. Developers will be able to offer alternative approaches where appropriate (eg greater discount, fewer discounted homes – or different tenures). “Build to Rent” will be defined and it is acknowledged that developers should be able to cease to operate the property as Build To Rent subject to payment of a commuted sum reflecting the affordable housing requirement that would otherwise have been applicable. 
There is also recognition in the consultation paper that factors in London may be different, allowing for an amended response and recognition of Mayor of London’s November 2016 affordable housing and viability draft SPG.
There will be a transitional period of 6 months from the time that the NPPF changes are made. The possibility is held out of model section 106 clauses, which would help minimise unnecessary delays. 

The recognition that Build to Rent is a model that doesn’t sit well with ‘ownership’ forms of affordable housing is what that industry (largely self-defining through scale of scheme and extent of professional management) has been lobbying for. Nor is there any more any reference to off-site starter home provision.
Wider implications
The extensions to the meaning of ‘affordable housing’ are all in the direction of private sector provision. The definition is now very wide indeed. Battles lie ahead once LPAs consider the implications of the changes for their local plan affordable housing requirements against a backdrop of, for example:
– reduced levels of socially rented housing over the last six years or so following the introduction of affordable rent (minimum discount of at least 20% to market rent), vividly demonstrated in the Government’s affordable housing statistics published on 2 March 2017:

– restrictions on housing benefit, for instance ineligibility of 18-21 year olds from 1 April 2017 under the Universal Credit (Housing Costs Element for claimants aged 18 to 21) (Amendment) Regulations 2017  made on 2 March 2017. 
– the continuing, onerous, requirement on registered providers since 2015 to reduce rents by 1% a year for four years resulting in a 12% reduction in average rents by 2020-21. 
– Loss of stock via the Housing and Planning Act 2016’s voluntary right to buy scheme in relation to registered providers and the Act’s provisions requiring local authorities to sell vacant higher value housing (the Government’s most recent statistics on sales date from October 2016 but already show significant numbers). 
A debate took place in the House of Lords this week, on 2 March 2017, on the Economic Affairs Committee’s July 2016 report, Building More Homes  in the context of the Housing White Paper. Lord Young closed for the Government saying many of the right things but, after such a background of continuing changes (I believe it was Adam Challis at JLL who recently counted 180 housing initiatives since 2010), with further uncertainty for at least 18 months, surely we now just need to get on with the matter in hand – ensuring that there are enough homes to meet all social needs, whilst not killing the golden goose without which this will simply not happen under any foreseeable system, ie profitable development by the private sector.
Simon Ricketts 4.3.17
Personal views, et cetera

Affordable Housing & Viability: London Leads

Full credit to Sadiq Khan for pressing ahead with his heavily trailed draft Affordable Housing and Viability SPG  despite the Government’s inexplicable delay in publishing the Housing White Paper (whatever its contents prove to be). The deadline for consultation responses to the draft SPG is 28 February 2017. As the draft warns, when the Government’s detailed proposals in relation to starter homes are published, presumably as part of the white paper, there will be knock-on implications for the SPG – after how can the percentages in the draft SPG possibly survive the imposition of a mandatory starter homes top slice?
The SPG will be guidance rather than policy (although I suspect that the distinction may over time prove largely semantic when non compliant schemes come before the Mayor for sign off) and LPAs are “strongly encouraged” to follow it for schemes of ten or more dwellings. The SPG will supersede section 3.3 (Build to Rent) and Part 5 (Viability) of the March 2016 housing SPG. The rest of that SPG remains current. It will inform the drafting of the new London Plan, a consultation draft of which is expected in Autumn 2017. 
What follows will become very familiar I’m sure to all of us negotiating London section 106 agreements. The level of prescription may prove helpful in narrowing the scope for re-inventing the wheel, subject to the attitude that LPAs take to what after all is only draft non-statutory guidance. 
The ‘threshold’ approach
The draft SPG introduces a ‘threshold approach’, whereby schemes meeting or exceeding 35% (by habitable room) affordable housing without public subsidy will not be required to submit viability information. 
Schemes are divided into “route A” and “route B”. 

Route A schemes are:
. applications which do not meet the 35% threshold and required tenure split;

• applications which propose affordable housing off-site or as cash in lieu contribution; 

• applications which involve demolition of existing affordable housing (in particular estate regeneration schemes); 

• applications where the applicant claims the vacant building credit applies. 

Route B schemes are schemes which meet the 35% threshold and required tenure split (and which do not otherwise fall within the route A scheme definition above). Viability appraisal is not required, although there will be an “early review mechanism … triggered if an agreed level of progress is not made within two years of permission being granted” (the agreed level of progress being defined at the outset in the section 106 agreement).
The required tenure split
The required tenure split is:
– “at least 30% low cost rent (social rent or affordable rent) with rent set at levels that the LPA considers ‘genuinely affordable’ (this will generally be significantly less than 80% market rent). As part of [the] consultation, LPAs are being invited
to give guidance on what rent levels they consider to be genuinely affordable if above the benchmarks for London Affordable Rent”.
– “at least 30% as intermediate products, with London Living Rent … and/ or shared ownership being the default tenures assumed in this category. For viability purposes, London Living Rent homes in mixed-tenure schemes can be treated similarly to shared ownership, as it can be assumed that they will be sold on a shared ownership basis after a period of 10 years”.

– the remaining 40% is to be determined by the relevant LPA but must be “genuinely affordable”.

“London Living Rent is a new type of intermediate affordable housing that will help, through low rents on time-limited tenancies, households with around average earnings save for a deposit to buy their own home”. It has “ward-level caps … based on one-third of median gross household income for the local borough. The cap varies from the Borough median by up to 20 per cent in line with house prices within the ward”. The Mayor intends to limit eligibility for London Living Rent and other intermediate rent products to households on incomes of £60,000 a year or less, down from £90,000. 

“[F]or intermediate dwellings to be considered affordable, annual housing costs, including mortgage (assuming reasonable interest rates and deposit requirements), rent and service charges should be no greater than 40% of net household income. 
For shared ownership properties, to ensure mortgage costs assumptions are reasonable, boroughs, developers and registered provides are advised to assume buyers will access RPs, with a term of 25 years and a 90% loan to value ratio. The prevailing average interest rate being offered to lenders based on the terms above should be used to calculate the monthly payments. Generally shared ownership is not appropriate where unrestricted market values of a unit exceed £600,000”. 
Viability appraisal
Viability appraisal will be required to following a prescriptive approach, set out in part 3 of the draft. In relation to some familiar areas for dispute:
– “The price the RP has agreed to pay for each unit should be used in the viability appraisal and should be enshrined in the Section 106 agreement (for phased schemes the price in the Section 106 should be inflation linked)”.

– It should be assumed that all developers will incur generic average finance costs based on standard market rates.

– The IRR approach will not generally be appropriate for schemes of fewer than 1,000 units. 

– The benchmark value will be based on an existing Use Value plus premium (EUV+) approach, rather than the circularity of a market value approach. The Mayor will generally only accept an Alternative Use Value (AUV) approach where there is an existing implementable permission for that use.

The Mayor expects “all information to be made public, including council and third party assessments. Applicants will have the opportunity to argue that limited elements should be kept undisclosed, but the onus is on the applicant to make this case”. 

Review mechanisms
Section 106 agreements for route A schemes will need to require a two stage review mechanism:
– An “early review” where an agreed level of progress with the scheme is not made within two years of the permission being granted. Any surplus to be split 60/40 between the LPA and the developer and any surplus identified to translate into additional onsite affordable housing. “Thus plans should identify which units would switch to affordable accommodation in the event of an increase in viability at this early stage. If the agreed level of progress has been made, this review will not be triggered. All signatories to the Section 106 need to commit to making their best endeavours to fulfil their relevant requirements (setting out key milestones and requirements) to deliver the scheme and account may be had of the market situation at time of review”. 

– A “near end of development review which will be applied once 75% of units are sold. Where a surplus profit is identified this should be split 60/40 between the LPA and developer. The outcome of this review will typically be a financial contribution towards off-site affordable housing provision”. 

– The surplus is applied up to a total of 50% affordable housing.

The review should consider changes in gross development value and build costs using formulae set out in Appendix A to the draft SPG and which should be set out in the section 106 agreement. 
Build To Rent
Specific favourable provisions apply to Build To Rent, defined as complying with the following criteria:
“• a development, or block/ phase within a development, of at least 50 units; 

• the homes to be held as Build to Rent under a covenant for at least 15 years; 

• all units to be self-contained and let separately; 

• unified ownership and unified management of the development; 

• professional and on-site management; 

• longer tenancies offered (ideally three years or more) with defined in-tenancy rent reviews; and 

• property manager to be part of an accredited Ombudsman Scheme and a member of a recognised professional body”.

The Build To Rent restriction should usually be by way of section 106 agreement and should include a clawback mechanism if the units cease to be used for Build To Rent purposes. Two potential, alternative , clawback mechanisms are being consulted upon:
– to seek to recoup the initial loss of affordable housing if the homes are sold out of the Build to Rent sector, based on an appraisal submitted at application stage showing the reduced number of affordable homes possible due to the Build To Rent model. 

– a clawback to secure a total of 35% affordable housing. 

Affordable housing within Build To Rent schemes can be by way of discounted market rent (DMR), managed by the private sector landlord. The Mayor is seeking that the DMR be at London Living Rent. 
Some relaxation of space standards may be acceptable for Build To Rent products, particularly where they are subject to a longterm covenant that they will remain as Build To Rent. 
Differences are recognised in the approach to viability for Build To Rent schemes. Particularly:
“a different approach to profit (often lower than a build for sale scheme); 
• different approaches to sales and marketing; 

• rate of sale/disposal – this will generally be faster for a Build to Rent scheme (generally a build to rent appraisal will assume a development period and then a sale to an investor or operator); and 

• potentially lower risk compared to for sale schemes”. 

Finally, the Mayor is keen to secure the following five management standards:

“- Longer tenancies (three years or more) should be available to all tenants. These should have break clauses for renters, which allow the tenant to end the tenancy with a month’s notice any time after the first six months. 

– Within these tenancies there should be formula-linked rent increases. The LPA should not stipulate the level of rent increases on market rate tenancies, but these should be made clear to the tenant when the property is let and LPAs should ensure they are not set to discourage tenants from taking longer tenancies. Rents should normally be reset on each new tenancy.

– There must be on-site management. This does not necessarily have to mean
full time dedicated on-site staff in every case, as this could be unviable and unnecessary on small schemes. However all schemes need to have prompt issue resolution systems and some daily onsite presence.

– Providers must have a complaints procedure in place and be a member of
a recognised ombudsman scheme. They must also have membership of a designated professional body, such as the British Property Federation or Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

– Finally, properties must be advertised on the GLA’s London-wide portal, in due course, which can be in addition to any advertising the provider may already be undertaking”.

Registered providers/grant funding

Applicants are encouraged to have registered providers on board at pre-application stage. 
The Mayor’s grant funding will only be available for route B applications if it increases the proportion of affordable housing above the nil-grant position to a level of 40% or more.
“The Mayor’s Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021, sets out how grant is going to be used to increase the amount of affordable housing delivered on developer-led sites above 35%, and to support approved providers deliver programmes with at least 50% affordable housing”. 

Concluding thoughts

In 2015 private sector schemes only delivered on average 13% affordable housing. Will this approach nudge the percentage upwards? This largely depends on whether developers believe that to button down 35%, with no review as long as development is not delayed, and with no need for viability appraisal, is sufficiently achievable or attractive. If it isn’t then it will be business as usual, with viability appraisals submitted to seek to secure a significantly lower percentage. 

How will LPAs react, particularly those inclined to hold out for the 50% target? And how will the imposition of a mandatory proportion of starter homes impact on this nuanced, London-specific approach?

Is the Mayor’s target of 50% now unachievable by flagging 35% as in practice acceptable or can the use of public land and grant funding make any appreciable difference?

Pass. But at least the likely structure of section 106 agreements for route A, route B and Build To Rent schemes (or rather the Mayor’s starting position) is increasingly clear. Which means, if the approaches are commercially palatable, faster permissions and less delay to development (particularly with the spectre of reviews triggered by delayed implementation). And:

Mayor of London: 1

Secretary of State: nil.
Simon Ricketts 1.12.16
Personal views, et cetera

Section 106 Disagreements

If CIL is to beat a retreat in relation to major developments as rumoured (June 2016 blog post  – although we’ll now need to wait for Parliament to resume in the Autumn before we learn any more of the CIL working group’s thinking) it’s more important than ever that the section 106 process works as well as it can. Used well, it is a powerful and effective mechanism and there is no need at all for negotiations to become protracted.
Unfortunately the Government continues to snatch at the issues. Section 106 agreements come in all shapes and sizes, from the simplest agreement to secure a specific contribution tocomplex agreements in connection with urban extensions and large mixed use projects, amounting to public/private sector agreements to govern the delivery, over decades hand in hand with development phases, of many hundreds of millions of pounds of social and physical infrastructure – and where issues such as the appropriate ring-fencing of obligations to appropriate parts of the site, enforcement protocols, reasonable future-proofing, interaction with CIL, viability review mechanisms and long-term maintenance arrangements can come to the fore in a variety of permutations.  
Legislative changes

Regulations 122 and 123 of the CIL Regulations 2010 have set trip hazards for LPAs and developers: section 106 agreements that do not comply with those regulations which are relied upon by LPAs in granting planning permission render the LPA’s decision liable to judicial review by third parties. 

Regulation 122 placed in statutory form the previous policy test that a planning obligation must be necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms, directly related to the development and fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development. Examples of Regulation 122 leading to permissions being quashed include Borough of Telford and Wrekin v Secretary of State  (Court of Appeal, 2 April 2014), Oxfordshire County Council v Secretary of State  (Lang J, 3 February 2015 – monitoring obligations) and R (Mid-Counties Co-operative Limited v Forest of Dean DC  (Singh J, 6 April 2015). 

Regulation 123(2) bites against planning obligations in relation to the funding or provision of infrastructure on the LPA’s Regulation 123 list. Regulation 123(3) introduced the “pooling” restriction, where five or more planning obligations have been entered into within an LPA’s area since 6 April 2010 that provide for contributions to the same infrastructure project or type of infrastructure.

It is often difficult to get to the bottom of whether these restrictions would be, or have been, breached as well as how “infrastructure project” or “type of infrastructure” is to be interpreted. It is difficult enough negotiating a satisfactory mechanism to overcome legitimate planning concerns without having to guard against the risk of a judicial review based on alleged non-compliance with these broadly stated requirements. 

These are not the only trip hazards of course – for example there is the often-overlooked requirement in Article 40(3)(b) of the Development Management Procedure Order 2015 for the LPA to put “proposed” planning obligations on the planning register (although not every travelling draft amounts to a planning obligation that is “proposed” eg see R (Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire) v Blaby District Council  (Foskett J, 27 May 2014)). 

Further constraints are still to come, via section 5 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (the “starter homes requirement” to be delivered in a specified form by way of section 106 agreement) and via section 159 (which enables the Secretary of State to render unenforceable specified planning obligations in relation to affordable housing). Following the Government’s victory in Secretary of State v West Berkshire Council  (Court of Appeal, 11 May 2016) the Planning Practice Guidance now again has the exemption introduced in 2014 for developments of 10 units or fewer and developments with less than 1,000 square metres of floor space from the requirement to contribute towards affordable housing.

We also now have (albeit awaiting draft regulations) the dispute resolution mechanism introduced by section 158 and Schedule 13 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. 

The explanatory notes to the Act explain the mechanism as follows:

Appointment of a person to help resolve disputes

This Schedule requires the Secretary of State to appoint someone to resolve issues that are holding up the completion of planning obligations. 

The duty to make an appointment arises where certain conditions are met. There must be an existing planning application. The local planning authority must be likely to grant planning permission if satisfactory planning obligations are entered into. There must usually be a request from the local planning authority or from the applicant. 

The Secretary of State can also make regulations setting out:

who, other than the local planning authority and applicant, could make a request for the appointment of a person;

the timing and form of requests;

that a person can be appointed if outstanding issues have not been resolved within set timeframes (regardless of whether there is a request); 

further detail about appointments, including about when a request cannot be made and about when a request could be refused; 

what qualifications or experience the appointed person must have; and

any fees payable.

There are temporary restrictions on the steps that can be taken in relation to the application until the dispute resolution process concludes.

The appointed person 

The local planning authority and the applicant must co-operate with the appointed person and comply with any reasonable requests. Regulations can also enable the appointed person to award costs if one of those parties fails to comply or behaves unreasonably.

The appointed person must produce a report that sets out:

the unresolved issues and the steps taken to resolve them; and

the terms agreed, or where the terms have not been agreed, recommendations as to what terms would be appropriate.

The appointed person must take into account any template or model terms published by the Secretary of State. Regulations can also set out other details about what the appointed person must and must not take account of.

The local planning authority must publish the report in line with any requirements set out in regulations. Regulations may also provide a process for making revisions to a report.

An appointed person may be appointed to consider two or more planning applications at the same time if the same or similar issues arise under them. In such circumstances a single report may be produced.

After the appointed person’s report

After the appointed person issues a report, a local planning authority must comply with the obligations in this Schedule.

Where planning obligations are entered into in line with the report, then the local planning authority must not refuse permission for reasons relating to the appropriateness of the planning obligations.

The parties may agree different terms, but they will only have a limited period to do so, which will be set out in regulations.

Where no obligations are entered into within a set period, the application must be refused. This is to ensure that the matters come to a conclusion quickly.

Regulations can also set out restrictions on the local planning authority’s ability to ask for additional obligations at this time. Any such restrictions would be designed to ensure that the report is given proper effect by the local planning authority. Regulations can also set out:

periods for determining planning applications after a report is issued; 

circumstances or cases where the consequences in this Schedule don’t apply; and

any further steps required to be taken by the appointed person, the local planning authority or the applicant in connection with the report. 

Where an appeal is lodged, the person determining the appeal must have regard to the report but is not bound by it.”

Will this complicated process be much used or lead to quicker, better, negotiations? My reading of a number of the responses to its February 2015 technical consultation  was that it had less than whole-hearted support from even the private sector. You may remember that due to the impending General Election we then had the Government’s response  in record time the following month, with its proposed way forward in section 4.

In reality, an impasse in section 106 agreement negotiations is rarely down to one defined issue capable of resolution but can relate to a whole host of inter-linking factors, potentially involving parties beyond the LPA and applicant for example other authorities (county and district not seeing eye to eye on “county” issues is a growing concern), land owners and/or funders. 

Other legislative changes come and go, for example the time-limited section 106BA ability (until 30 April 2016) to apply to amend affordable housing provisions in section 106 agreements where necessary to render development viable, introduced in the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, announced in the Government’s 2015 Autumn Statement as to be extended and then abruptly left to expire.

Policy changes

The NPPF has only brief references to the section 106 agreement process (with nothing on timescales for their completion):

“203. Local planning authorities should consider whether otherwise unacceptable development could be made acceptable through the use of conditions or planning obligations. Planning obligations should only be used where it is not possible to address unacceptable impacts through a planning condition.

204. Planning obligations should only be sought where they meet all of the following tests:

● necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms;

● directly related to the development; and

● fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.

205. Where obligations are being sought or revised, local planning authorities should take account of changes in market conditions over time and, wherever appropriate, be sufficiently flexible to prevent planned development being stalled. “
At the same time as the March 2015 Government technical consultation response we had a very minor beefing up of the planning obligations section of the Planning Practice Guidance  :

“When should discussions on planning obligations take place?

“Discussions about planning obligations should take place as early as possible in the planning process, including at the pre-application stage. This will prevent delays in finalising those planning applications which are granted subject to the completion of planning obligation agreements.

Can planning obligations or heads of terms be on a local list? [answer: information about proposed planning obligations should not normally be made a validation requirement].

Local planning authorities are encouraged to inform and involve all parties with an interest in the land and relevant infrastructure providers, including county councils where appropriate, at an early stage to prevent delays to the process.”

Practical steps

An updated version of the Law Society’s model form of section 106 agreement, endorsed by DCLG (but openly consulted upon first please) would be helpful. The current version dates from June 2010 (predating all of the law and policy referred to in this blog post!). LPAs and developers alike could be advised more strongly that its terms should not be departed from without good reason – there is still far too much reinventing of the wheel and inconsistency of approach between LPAs and indeed between individual lawyers. The reference to a template or model terms in the passage above is encouraging. We need to move away from a bespoke tailored approach towards the “off the peg” department wherever we can…
Particular complexities arise in relation to negotiating viability review mechanisms. Again greater standardisation (which first needs greater standardisation of the approach taken by valuers to viability appraisal for section 106 purposes) would reduce a huge amount of detailed drafting and negotiation. 

There can be a bottleneck when it comes to the LPA’s internal legal and other officer resources, often despite the fact that the applicant is willing to pay for the LPA to outsource its legal work (not that outsourcing is in any way a universal panacea and on a complicated scheme a range of officer input is required). Proper discussions on the section 106 agreement still usually start far too late, with the difficult issues not grappled with until the lawyers have been instructed and start probing as to what the heads of terms actually mean…

The Local Government Ombudsman could usefully take a less hands-off approach than at present to complaints about undue delay. Its present stance (illustrated by this September 2014 ruling )  appears to be that the applicant’s remedy is simply to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate on the basis of non-determination of the application within the statutory period. 

Most usefully however, we could all re-double our efforts to ensure that we only include within section 106 agreements that which is absolutely necessary. If something can be addressed by planning condition, use a condition! 

Simon Ricketts, 20.8.16

Personal views, et cetera