Following on from a recent appeal decision in September by a Planning Inspector, it is clear that local planning policy is capable of taking authority over the written ministerial statement regarding the small sites exemption from affordable housing.

A recent dismissed appeal against South Cambridgeshire District Council for an outline application of eight two-storey homes was not refused on grounds of affordable housing; however the Inspector reported that had the appeal been allowed it would have been necessary for the proposed development to comply with a local plan policy, which requires at least 40% of homes on all sites of two or more dwellings to be affordable. This is in contrast to the written ministerial statement first produced in 2014 which stated that for developments of ten units or less, affordable housing was not applicable.

The Inspector concluded that:

  • The written ministerial statement must be addressed alongside local policy.
  • Local evidence of affordable housing need was substantial so must be factored into consideration.
  • The local plan policy was compatible with the National Planning Policy Framework in acknowledging development viability considerations and therefore not imposing a level of planning obligation that would prevent development coming forward.
  • Affordable housing provisions could be dealt with by way of an appropriate planning condition or obligation.

Another decision in August held in favour of Elmbridge Borough Council over an application to build a single house on the site of a garage. This was refused on the grounds of affordable housing with the Inspector citing the acute and substantial need for affordable housing and the importance of its delivery through small sites.

These decisions cast doubt on the position of the ministerial guidance and potentially highlight the practical flaws surrounding blanket exemptions for affordable housing obligations; the exemption may act as an obstruction against providing for affordable housing where there are no viability issues. Conversely, it is worth considering whether it is financially viable to include affordable homes on smaller sites due to the potential punitive consequences for developers and encouraging a culture of reluctance to take on smaller sites. Most appeal decisions which have tested the policy thus far have ruled in favour of the written ministerial statement. Whether councils will be entrusted to produce balanced affordable housing policies or whether a nationwide policy should be held as authority on small site exemptions remains to be seen.