Tory planning reforms ‘could kill off affordable housing’

Jamie Doward
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA</span>
Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Government reforms of the planning system have been branded a “property developers’ charter” that will benefit Tory donors and could spell the end of affordable housing.

The proposed reforms, announced last week, would see an end to section 106 agreements under which developers deliver affordable homes in exchange for permission to build.

The government intends to replace the agreements – and another revenue generator, the community infrastructure levy – with a new levy it claims will increase revenue levels collected nationally when compared to the current system and ensure the delivery of more affordable housing.

This could throw the chances for over a million households on the social housing waiting list of ever getting a genuinely affordable home

Polly Neate, Shelter

But opposition parties and housing experts fear the reforms will be a retrograde step. “Section 106 agreements are how the majority of our current social homes get built,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter. “We get a pathetically low number of new social homes built each year, far fewer than the number sold or demolished. We desperately need to be building more social homes, not putting the now already pitiful trickle at risk.”

In the financial year to April 2019 only 6,287 new social rent homes were delivered. Some 23,740 were sold or demolished in the same period.

“Scrapping section 106 might well make developers happy, but for over a million households currently on the social housing waiting list, this could throw their chances of ever getting a secure, genuinely affordable home into even more doubt,” Neate said.

Related: The Observer view on Tory fantasies about planning

Sondhya Gupta, of SumOfUs, which campaigns against power grabs by big business, said the reforms would see planning decisions taken away from local people.

She said: “Covid-19 has made us feel more connected to our communities, and many of us have become more attuned to what infrastructure is needed locally. To take that decision-making away from local people and instead give it to greedy property developers is a smack in the face for local democracy.”

Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, said: “These toxic reforms could spell the end of affordable housing and show that this government is more interested in helping its wealthy donor mates than working people who need good quality affordable housing.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, dismissed suggestions the government was pandering to property developers. “These claims are completely untrue,” it said. “Our proposals will introduce a simpler levy that ensures developers deliver at least as much – if not more – affordable housing. This new levy will raise more revenue than under the current system.”