Planning Gain and the Supply of New Affordable Housing in England: Understanding the Numbers

By Crook, A. D. H.; Monk, S. et al. | The Town Planning Review, May 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Planning Gain and the Supply of New Affordable Housing in England: Understanding the Numbers


Crook, A. D. H., Monk, S., Rowley, S., Whitehead, C. M. E., The Town Planning Review


The policy to generate land and finance for affordable housing through the land use planning system in England has now been in place for fifteen years - and is fast becoming the most important mechanism for adding to the stock of affordable housing. It is therefore an appropriate time to assess the extent to which the policy is achieving its objectives. To address this issue the paper draws on a number of complementary research projects to look at how the policy has developed and then at the evidence of outputs and outcomes. It first examines the numbers being achieved and the proportion of total output that this represents; it then looks at the regional and the tenure distribution of this output and lastly at the nature of other contributions made by developers. Finally the implications of the findings are discussed in the context of proposed policy changes.

Planning context

The research question

Over the last few years there has been extensive debate both within government and in the press on the shortage of housing in England and the acute shortage of affordable housing in many parts of the country. Evidence has been adduced to show first that within the existing policy framework it is the supply of affordable housing that is falling short of target (JRF, 20012), and second that the targets themselves cannot provide the levels of housing output required to meet identified needs and stabilise house prices (Holmans et al., 2004; Barker, 2004).

Increasing the provision of affordable housing requires both land and subsidy. Over the last decade and a half central government has evolved a policy in which development land allocation, the supply of new affordable dwellings and some elements of funding are linked through the system of planning obligations or section 106 (S. 106) agreements. Local authorities can negotiate with developers seeking planning permission for new private housing to provide a proportion of residential development above certain size thresholds as affordable dwellings. The requirements typically range from 20 per cent of total units on a site up to 50 per cent (the latter in some parts of London) depending upon perceived housing need within the local area.'

The connections between affordable housing policy and planning policy were made not just as a means of securing land for affordable housing but also in order to provide elements of funding, with financial (or equivalent in kind) contributions being made by landowners and developers from their land and development profits. These enable the available central government grant to be stretched over a larger number of affordable units, increasing the value for money achieved from government resources (Whitehead et al., 2005). Further objectives of the policy include ensuring more mixed communities by requiring provision to be made on-site. The concept involves a private developer providing the market housing and working in partnership with a registered social landlord (RSL) to provide affordable rented and other housing either on part of the site or mixed in and physically integrated with the private housing development. Important research questions therefore include how effectively this policy is working to increase new provision of affordable housing and whether the location and type of housing is best meeting identified needs at both regional and local level.

This paper therefore looks at the contribution of planning policy to the provision of new affordable housing by making estimates of the total numbers of new units that have been provided by this mechanism and examining their locational and tenurial attributes as well as some measure of the extent to which S. 106 housing is substituting for traditional forms of social housing. It first examines the affordable housing policy background and recent research in this area. The main issue of the paper is the quantity of affordable housing completed through the planning system. …

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