Planning Advice and Guidance

Affordable Housing and Vacant Building Credit

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is Government policy, advises of the requirement for the planning system to deliver the three dimensions to sustainable development:- economic, social and environmental. Included in this social role is a need to provide a supply of housing that meets the needs of present and future generations. Paragraph 47 of the NPPF requires local authorities to boost significantly the supply of housing, and advises authorities to use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, as far as is consistent with the policies set out in this Framework, including identifying key sites which are critical to the delivery of the housing strategy over the plan period.

Policy CP8 of the Core Strategy states that all residential proposals of between 10 and 49 dwellings should make affordable housing or key worker provision of not less than 20% of the total number of units on site.

On 6 March 2014 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) launched a new website upon which it publishes national planning practice guidance (NPPG). This guidance is a material planning consideration. Paragraph: 021 Reference ID: 23b-021-20150326 of the NPPG (revised 26 March 2015) states that local planning authorities should offer developers a vacant building credit when calculating affordable housing contributions, only requiring such contributions for any increase in floorspace.

The Council’s position is that, although a material consideration, the ‘vacant building credit’ sections of the NPPG conflict with the NPPF compliant Development Plan for the borough and evidence base in respect of meeting affordable housing needs.

The Council’s Core Strategy is considered to be compliant with the NPPF and requires 20% affordable housing to be provided on schemes based on the thresholds set out in the policy. This policy seeks to meet the Borough’s affordable housing needs as set out in the Thames Gateway South East SHMA, which identifies a need for new affordable homes. Taking into account the NPPF, together with all other material planning considerations it is considered appropriate for the Council to seek affordable housing in accordance with Core Strategy policy CP8.

Notwithstanding the above, the Council acknowledges that viability concerns are a material consideration in determining planning applications. NPPF para. 173 states the following:

Pursuing sustainable development requires careful attention to viability and costs in plan-making and decision-taking. Plans should be deliverable. Therefore, the sites and the scale of development identified in the plan should not be subject to such a scale of obligations and policy burdens that their ability to be developed viably is threatened. To ensure viability, the costs of any requirements likely to be applied to development, such as requirements for affordable housing, standards, infrastructure contributions or other requirements should, when taking account of the normal cost of development and mitigation, provide competitive returns to a willing land owner and willing developer to enable the development to be deliverable.

Therefore, if a developer wishes to seek a vacant building credit in respect of the affordable housing, an application will only be considered on the following basis:

  • Where the existing building(s) has not been abandoned;
  • Where specific information on the floorspace of the proposed residential development and the calculation of the claimed offset has been provided; and
  • Where a viability appraisal has been submitted to demonstrate that without a credit the scheme would be unviable.

On submission of this information, due regard will be paid to the individual circumstances of a development, and a judgement on whether the credit should be applied will be based on deliverability and viability as set out in NPPF paragraph 173.

Further details can be found in the relevant sections of the NPPG:

What is the vacant building credit?

Paragraph 021 Reference ID: 23b-022-20150326

What is the process for determining the vacant building credit?

Paragraph 022 Reference ID: 23b-022-20150326

Does the vacant building credit apply to any vacant building being brought back into use?

Paragraph 023 Reference ID: 23b-022-20150326

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