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Secretary of State blocks affordable housing scheme

The Secretary of State has disregarded the recommendations of a Planning Inspector and refused planning permission for a development of 94 affordable homes. Despite agreeing with the Inspector that the development would make a significant contribution towards meeting housing needs in the area, he blocked the development on the grounds that such a large cluster of affordable housing would conflict with the policy of creating inclusive and mixed communities.

In April 2014, a planning application was submitted to Ipswich Borough Council for the development of 94 new residential dwellings, consisting of a mixture of houses and flats. In January 2015, the Secretary of State directed that the application be referred to him instead of being dealt with by the local planning authority. An inquiry was held in September 2015 and it has taken until this month for the Secretary of State to make his decision. 

The main issue was whether the proposal would deliver a wide choice of high quality homes, widen opportunities for home ownership and create a sustainable, inclusive and mixed community. As the borough of Ipswich does not have a five year housing land supply, it means that relevant policies for the supply of land should not be considered up to date. One of the policies in the adopted core strategy was that affordable housing units should not generally be grouped in clusters of more than 12 to 15 units.

The Secretary of State acknowledged that to meet the area's housing needs, housing development would need to be substantially or wholly affordable. He also agreed that the proposed development would make a contribution towards meeting housing needs. However, although the policy in relation to clusters of affordable housing units could not be thought of as up to date, he considered it to have an important role in achieving inclusive and mixed communities and declared that it should carry significant weight. 

As the policies could not be considered up to date, the presumption in favour of sustainable development requires that planning permission should be granted unless any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole. Astonishingly, the Secretary of State concluded that the adverse impact in this case significantly and demonstrably outweighed the benefits. Therefore, he refused to grant planning permission.

The decision has taken many by surprise and looks to be part of the government's drive towards home ownership. Is this a taste of more to come? Many are concerned that the introduction of starter homes will decrease the amount of affordable housing on sites. It remains to be seen whether this decision will be challenged. If not, it could lead to planning authorities refusing planning permission for much needed housing on the basis that the scheme does not create a sufficiently mixed community. Home ownership seems to be taking precedence over housing need.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2016. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions 

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