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'Think again' – Forest councillors attack government plans to change rules on affordable housing

Developers would incorporate affordable housing units into applications only for 40 homes or more, under the new plans
Developers would incorporate affordable housing units into applications only for 40 homes or more, under the new plans

CONSERVATIVE councillors have attacked temporary changes to planning rules proposed by the government, claiming they risked a “dramatic” cut in affordable housing supply in the New Forest.

District council housing chief Cllr Jill Cleary was strongly backed by NFDC deputy leader Cllr Edward Heron when she urged ministers to “think again”.

Speaking at the latest meeting of NFDC’s ruling cabinet, Cllr Cleary said she was “extremely concerned” about the local impact of a central government consultation suggesting short-term changes to existing national planning law.

It has mooted, for up to two years, requiring developers to incorporate affordable housing units into applications only for 40 homes or more.

Cllr Cleary acknowledged it was designed to help the economy and the construction industry get back on its feet.

But she said it could affect “many sites” in the district, warning: “It will mean a dramatic reduction in our affordable housing coming through.

“I want our response to reinforce how detrimental this will be for the New Forest. I would strongly urge the government to think again. We need more affordable housing, not less.

“We are doing everything we can to provide more affordable housing in our district.”

Deputy leader Cllr Heron, also the NFDC cabinet member for the environment and planning, admitted to “frustrations” with the proposals, some of which he welcomed.

He added: “At a time when housing affordability is a significant national issue and an acute local one in the New Forest, the proposals to increase the threshold for the provision of affordable housing on sites of 10 or more dwellings to 40 or 50 is inexplicable.

“There is no doubt that supporting economic growth should be a key priority in the recovery from the impacts of Covid-19, but this cannot be at the expense of providing affordable homes.”

Set to run until 1st October, the consultation is over changes to improve the effectiveness of the current planning system in advance of introducing of a new one.

It also plans major changes to the standard method of assessing local housing need and the securing of “first homes” sold at a discount for first-time buyers, including key workers, through developer contributions.

The paper further raises extending the current “permission in principle” to major development so landowners and developers have a fast route to secure the principle for housing sites without having to work up detailed plans beforehand.

NFDC members said a “detailed and technical” response to the paper was required, so delegated that to chief planning officer Claire Upton-Brown.

Replacing the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act

THE paper is separate to another consultation the government will run in October, which proposes major, long-term changes to the existing planning system to replace the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.

At a meeting of the national park authority’s resources, audit and performance committee, planning chief Steve Avery noted one suggested policy is to propose building more homes in areas which have higher average house prices in order to push them down.

Committee chair Cllr David Harrison said that was “troubling”. Mr Avery said the NPA would work with NFDC as there would be “implications” for the New Forest National Park if more homes had to be built on its boundaries.

NFDC and the NPA will form separate responses but Mr said he will consult Mrs Upton-Brown, and be part of a separate general response formulated by planning chiefs of all the UK’s national parks.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP said the “once-in-a-generation reforms” would not reduce standards with a shift to a zonal planning system with broader policies covering wider areas.

It has been attacked by opposition Liberal Democrats on NFDC who claimed it will do nothing to solve the local “housing crisis”.

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