William Eichler 08 April 2021

Councils urged to make off-site affordable housing a higher priority

Councils urged to make off-site affordable housing a higher priority image

A greater emphasis needs to be placed on delivering affordable housing through off-site allocations, a new report says.

On or off site; Considering the value and approach to affordable housing delivery highlights how almost 50% of English local authorities say they only accept ‘off-site’ delivery in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Published by the national planning and development consultancy Lichfields, the research says that to meet market needs over 40% of the 300,000-plus annual target of new UK homes should be in the affordable category.

However, they warn that this currently runs at closer to 25%.

While finding three quarters of English and Welsh local plans reference off-site affordable housing in various policies, Lichfields would like to see this increase to ensure there is no ambiguity in respect of off-site provision.

Lichfields’ associate director and report author Fiona Braithwaite commented: 'In the context of the housing crisis, it has becoming increasingly difficult to access the housing market, particularly for first-time buyers, leading to growth of the private rented sector and increased rental costs.

'Provision of affordable housing not only helps to address this vicious cycle, but also helps to create mixed and diverse communities and ensures a choice of housing is available.

‘Lichfields has found that off-site provision clearly has a number of benefits and a more positive approach towards such provision, influenced by national policy would support the creation of mixed communities.’

Affordable Housing is stipulated as being discounted at least 20% below local market value, with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) also requiring major developments to deliver at least 10% of homes as affordable.

While acknowledging that these targets sometimes make a scheme unviable, the report says that for many councils a key benefit of accepting off-site contributions has been that commuted S106 sums enable the delivery of a larger number of affordable houses, off-site, than would be possible on-site.

Lichfields also says the benefits of off-site housing include matching the right type of homes to locations, and maximising the potential development of brownfield land within urban areas.

The report acknowledges some downsides, including an over-concentration of affordable housing in particular locations, leading to market imbalances, and time-lags in the receipt of S106 money for off-site schemes.

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