Friday, 07 August 2015 07:04

Landmark ruling favours rural housing

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Landmark ruling favours rural housing

RURAL communities are set to benefit from a landmark ruling in favour of smaller rural housing developments.

It comes after two local authorities successfully challenged a government decision to exempt developers from providing affordable housing on developments with fewer than 10 homes.

Justice David Holgate quashed a number of measures following a High Court challenge by West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council on Friday (31 July).

Mr Justice Holgate made his decision regarding a joint Judicial Review in relation to a ministerial written statement which itself was made by housing minister Brandon Lewis on 28 November 2014.

In short, Mr Justice Holgate found in favour of the councils on four of the five grounds and has ordered that the relevant part of the National Planning Policy Guidance relating to the Ministerial Statement and all subsequent changes be quashed.

Therefore there are no longer any affordable housing thresholds and no vacant building credit.

The Rural Services Network (RSN), which gave a witness statement on behalf of its members into the legal proceedings, said it was delighted by Justice Holgate's ruling.

RSN chief executive Graham Biggs MBE said: "This is a landmark judgment which favours small rural housing developments, and thereby rural communities, the length and breadth of England."

The RSN had argued that the government's exemption policy could "decimate the provision of rural affordable housing because most sites in villages are small".

Mr Biggs said: "These planning requirements are the mechanism which delivers most of the new affordable homes in our villages. Without them, families will be priced out of the countryside.

"There is scant evidence that such planning agreements undermine development site viability and, where local authorities conclude it would, they can already reduce the burden.

"This judgment endorses our concerns."

In contesting the government's decision, Mr Biggs said the RSN was concerned not just about the processes through which the government's decision was reached but, more fundamentally about the impact of the decision itself.

Mr Biggs said: "We hope that the government will reflect on these issues and not appeal the judgment."

Developers already had the ability to negotiate the number of affordable homes that go on a site, if they could show it would bring into question its financial viability, said Mr Biggs.

Such local negotiations, with decisions taken by the local planning authority, were the right approach, rather than having a blanket rule imposed by central government.

Alan Law, West Berkshire's executive member for planning, said: "The decision to legally challenge the government on this issue was not taken lightly.

"The judgement handed down today confirms that the council were fully justified in challenging this policy change in order to deliver much needed affordable housing and safeguard funding for critical infrastructure such as education.

"This was a concern for the council and by joining with Reading it was demonstrated that this issue was a cross party concern."

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