Government plans put new affordable housing at ‘serious risk’ in National Parks

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Published Monday 10 November 2014

England’s 10 National Parks today expressed their concerns at Government proposals that threaten their ability to achieve more affordable housing in National Parks.

All 10 have written to Communities Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP1 asking for changes to the Government’s proposals2 for reforming ‘Section 106 agreements’ which would mean that only schemes of over 10 homes need to provide a proportion of affordable housing.

The vast majority of development in National Parks is small scale and below the proposed threshold, with only one scheme of over 10 homes being submitted in the New Forest since the National Park was set up in 2005.

The 10 National Park Chairmen said introducing any threshold, even one lower than 10 units, ‘risks seriously threatening our ability to facilitate affordable housing in National Parks for local needs’.     

Recent research undertaken by Lloyds Bank3 found that the cost of owning a home in our national parks carries a 58% premium, with the largest premium being in the New Forest. The typical price for a house in the New Forest is now £516,479 - more than double the average for the rest of Hampshire.

Pat Wyeth, Chairman of the New Forest National Park’s Planning Committee, said: ‘These soaring house prices have made it even more difficult for local people working in areas like the New Forest to afford their own home. That is why we need to do all we can to support the provision of affordable homes in areas like the New Forest National Park.

‘Presently all new housing development in the Forest has to make some provision for affordable housing but there is already some flexibility in the amount to be provided. The current arrangements have seen some 30 new affordable homes built over the last eight years with a further £600,000 collected in “developer contributions” to help fund affordable homes elsewhere in the Forest4.’

Chair of National Parks England5 and the North York Moors National Park Authority, Jim Bailey said: ‘Reforming Section 106 agreements might sound like a technical boring bit of planning, but in fact these changes go to the heart of how we can respond to the need for affordable housing in our rural communities.  

‘The National Park Authorities are committed to supporting living working communities.  This proposal simply won’t help that in rural areas and we hope the Government will listen and exempt National Parks from the change.’

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Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the letter signed by all Chairs of the English National Parks to Communities Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP is attached.
  2. Details of the Government consultation can be found here.  The Government consultation proposes to exclude 'rural exception sites' from the provisions. While welcome, 'rural exception sites' are normally greenfield sites on the edges of villages and in practice this will only be a partial safeguard. Many small scale developments in National Parks are infill sites in villages, conversions or brownfield sites that would get caught up in the changes.  A decision by the Government is awaited.
  3. As reported in The Telegraph on 16 October 2014.
  4. Some 30 new homes in total are completed each year in the New Forest, with affordable homes making up just 6% of the overall total.
  5. National Parks England is the umbrella organisation that brings together the nine National Park Authorities (NPAs) and the Broads Authority.  It exists to support policy and practice by providing a collective voice for the views of the English NPAs; raising the profile of their work; facilitating discussion on issues of common concern; and working in partnership with other bodies.  For more information see: www.nationalparksengland.org.uk   Twitter: @natparksengland

Media contacts:

Paul Hamblin – Executive Director, National Parks England
Tel: (w) 020 7072 7421       (m) 07968 760 854
Email: paul.hamblin@nationalparksengland.org.uk

Hilary Makin – Communications Manager, New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646608
Email: hilary.makin@newforestnpa.gov.uk


Rt. Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State
Department for Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

5 November 2014

Dear Secretary of State       

Affordable Housing and Proposals to reform Section 106   

As Chairs of each of England’s ten National Parks we wanted to write personally to you to urge you not to introduce plans to introduce a threshold below which affordable housing could not be required in Section 106 planning agreements.  Any threshold, even one lower than the 10 proposed in the CLG consultation, risks seriously threatening our ability to facilitate affordable housing in National Parks for local needs, particularly in our smallest and most remote local communities.

The need for everyone to have a roof over their head is a basic need and one that National Park Authorities embrace.  We support, in particular, the Government’s encouragement to increase the volume of affordable housing.  In National Parks, where land and property values are high, incomes tend to be low, and available land for housing is constrained, the focus of National Park Authorities is on how to best use the available opportunities to meet local needs.  In this effort we have been driven by the needs of our local communities, and have been keen to make the most of innovative policies brought in by your department over the past four years such as Neighbourhood Plans and the recent ‘Right to Build’ vanguard authorities.

We welcome the Government’s continuing support to protect National Parks, as set out in Planning Guidance on 06 October 2014.  And we are also of one mind in recognising that our beautiful countryside thrives on the basis of sustainable communities.  That is why, for many years, National Park Authorities have developed innovative policies and approaches that prioritise local needs housing in perpetuity.  Without such local needs housing, National Park towns and villages risk becoming commuter settlements, or groupings of second homes – not the living, working communities the Government and the National Parks seek.  

The proposals for changing the rules on Section 106, if passed, will considerably reduce the ability of National Park Authorities in our efforts to respond to the high levels of local housing need in many of our communities.  Indeed, removal of the ability to use s106 agreements on small scale schemes will mean that the community in at least one National Park will not be able to meet their aspiration for local needs housing set out in their adopted Neighbourhood Plan.

Permissions given in recent years demonstrate that NPAs frequently need to rely on very small quota sites, infill opportunities and conversions for new affordable housing development – the most common size being just one unit. We understand your objective of supporting local developers and National Park schemes are brought forward in partnership with small scale local developers with full regard for their need to ensure that their businesses are profitable and sustainable.

We are clear that only an exemption for National Parks from this particular proposal will avoid the serious unintended consequences for affordable housing.  The need for new affordable housing is just too great, that any change that makes it harder rather than easier to deliver new affordable housing in National Parks will be felt acutely by our rural communities.

We hope that you will take into account the circumstances facing National Parks when making your final decision on this policy change.  We have provided Brandon Lewis MP and officials with additional information and would welcome an opportunity to discuss these issues with you in person, or to host a visit to a National Park to see how we facilitate affordable housing on the ground.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Bailey, Chair, National Parks England and Chair of North York Moors National Park Authority
Stephen Johnson, Deputy Chair, National Parks England and Chair of the Broads Authority

and

Peter Harper, Chair, Dartmoor National Park Authority
Andrea Davis, Chair, Exmoor National Park Authority            
Michael McKinley, Chair, Lake District National Park Authority             
Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, Chair, New Forest National Park Authority
John Riddle, Chair, Northumberland National Park Authority
Lesley Roberts, Chair, Peak District National Park Authority         
Margaret Paren, Chair, South Downs National Park Authority
Peter Charlesworth, Chair, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority         

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