Vacant Buildings Credit Backfires

Shows how gullible Brandon Lewis is

Estates Gazette

A government policy designed to help boost house building could wipe more than £1bn a year off Westminster city council’s affordable housing fund.

At the end of 2014, recently installed housing minister Brandon Lewis introduced a “vacant building credit” in a bid to help smaller developers build more homes across the UK.

However, the move has given large developers an unexpected windfall, enabling them to sidestep affordable housing payments.

At a planning meeting earlier this month, the Abu Dhabi Investment Council and Finchatton saw a potential payment of £17.6m shrink to just £8.6m on the conversion of the former US Navy HQ at 20 Grosvenor Square, W1, to 36 luxury flats as a result of the change.

The new credit allows for buildings that are vacant when planning is secured for residential conversion to only pay an affordable contribution on any new space. Prior to its introduction, the provision was levied on the full size of the building.

John Walker, director of planning at Westminster council, said: “This is going to be a dramatic amount of money for any council to lose in its affordable housing pool, but if we look at Westminster and the amount of high-value projects going through planning, we could be losing affordable housing payments upwards of £1bn every year.

“The policy is a gift to large developers, which will see a significant positive impact on their profits, but a big blow for councils struggling to achieve affordable housing targets.”

Robert Davis, deputy leader of Westminster city council, added: “This has serious implications, as it threatens our capability to deliver much-needed housing in central London. We therefore intend to open immediate discussions with the Department for Communities and Local Government to emphasis to them the consequences of these changes – as we believe that many London boroughs as well as other cities across the country, will face a similar impact as that which will be experienced in Westminster.”

London boroughs Camden, Islington, Southwark and Kensington & Chelsea will also be hit by the new credit, said experts.

London mayor Boris Johnson, who set a target of building 55,000 new affordable homes in the capital between 2011 and 2015, declined to comment.

Lewis denied that the introduction of the credit had backfired.

He said: “It’s crazy to tax empty buildings being brought into productive use. Such tariffs hinder regeneration and lead to the blight of empty, boarded properties.”

Simon Grundy, regional director in Indigo Planning’s Leeds office, said the credit would help areas outside London where house price inflation has been minimal.

“This easing of affordable housing obligations will encourage developers to more readily commit to residential conversion projects,” he said. “At the same time, it will help councils to meet their new home delivery targets.”

Daniel Farrand, joint head of planning and environment at law firm Mishcon de Reya, warned that some councils may contest the guidelines.

“Councils are taking advice on the credit,” he said. “Given the potential sums involved for large developments, it is only a matter of time before it is worth someone’s while to test that approach on appeal or in the courts.”

Cameron Misrepresents His Own Planning Policy in Constituency Flyer #NPPF

His West Oxfordshre annual Report

“I know there is great strength of feeling amongst local residents in West Oxfordshire regarding proposed development and I can completely understand why.

“We all realise that we need more homes, and the Government’s planning reforms are about doing this as sensitively as possible and in a way that local communities feel involved and empowered.The faster a council can demonstrate it has a reasonable forward land supply for new housing and a new local plan in place, the more they will be able to say “no” to inappropriate developments.

West Oxfordshire is doing well in this regard and has a good record of balancing new housing numbers needed without causing unnecessary harm to our market towns and picturesque villages

Where in the NPPF does it say that new housing in villages should be done ‘as sensitively as possible’  Where is the requirement not to do unnecessary harm o rural settlements?

Darlington Proves why you should never plan for the Minimum of a Range of Housing Options

In 2015 a Darlington Council Site Allocations Report stated

the draft housing allocations published and consulted upon was considered to be the minimum required to meet the housing growth identified in the Core Strategy. Accordingly, as it stands the Council lacks flexibility and “if any of the arguments advanced by others for higher housing numbers find favour with the Local Plan Inspector at Public examination in due course, or the sites identified do not come forward for new housing at all, or as quickly as envisaged.”

This Month Darlington lost an appeal to Gladman’s -who else, for an application increasing the numbr of houses in the village of Middleton St George by about 25%.

The Northern Echo

THE leader of a council that saw its housing policy overturned by a government inspector has defended planning officers, arguing that the system is skewed in favour of developers.

Councillor Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said lawyers had “exploited a weakness” in the authority’s housing development plans and admitted it was possible that other developers would do the same.

The authority saw its five-year housing supply figures and housing policy dismissed by a planning inspector as ‘out of date’ at an inquiry brought by Gladman Development as it won an appeal to build 250 houses on a greenfield site in Middleton St George.

Cllr Dixon said Gladman won 97 per cent of its appeals because it had the money to spend on lawyers while local authorities did not and said central government policy was stacked in favour of development…

“The housing figures and the data involved are very subjective. Gladman put some figures before the inspector and ignored others and it was only when the appeal began that officers knew what they were going to act on.”

Asked about the possibility of other developers exploiting the situation, he said: “It is always possible that further applications will come in.

“I’ve asked the officers to resolve the availability issue as a matter of priority.”

Cllr Heather Scott, leader of the Conservative group, attended a meeting with council planning officers and Cllr Doris Jones and Cllr Steve York, ward members for Middleton St George, to hear how the authority had got its figures so wrong.

She said: “There is a catalogue of things that have gone wrong.

“It is all to do with the Darlington Local Plan, which the inspector has said it not up to date.

“The officers told us that there were legal changes and that they had not really got the details of the changes ahead of the appeal and that is what Gladman exploited.

“Surely, if you know something is in the offing, you should find out about it?”

Cllr Jones, who revealed last week that she had begged the council to check its figures before going to the inquiry – which was refused – added: “To us, it looks as though it has been totally messed up.

“They were so sure that the figures they had were right and someone has come in and torn it to shreds. I think they were overconfident in themselves.”


A planning inspector has an allowed an appeal that will permit the construction of up to 250 homes in the open countryside in county Durham, after deciding that a council’s failure to make an objective assessment of its housing needs meant policies in its development plan were out-of-date.

Developer Gladman Developments submitted an application to Darlington Borough Council in 2013, seeking outline permission to build up to 250 homes on a field on the outskirts of the village of Middleton St George. The Council refused the application in March and the developer appealed to the secretary of state for communities and local government.

In a letter dated 12 January (22-page / 195 KB PDF), planning inspector M Middleton noted that the housing requirement in the Council’s 2011 core strategy was derived from the revoked North East regional plan. The figures used in the regional plan were “never an objective assessment of the need of the area”, said Middleton, and the Council had not made an objective assessment since. Consequently, the Council was unable to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites “regardless of the amount and quality of the data on the supply side”, the inspector said.

The appeal site was technically in open countryside outside the development limits set by saved policies from the 1997 Darlington local plan. However, the inspector noted that the limits had been intended to direct development only up to 2006 and said policies directing development towards urban areas should be considered out of date “in as much as they prevent development adjacent to the existing settlements”.

Middleton found support for the proposal in a core strategy policy which allowed for “windfall housing” adjacent to large villages should the delivery of housing stock fall to 80% or less of that required, and insufficient sites be deliverable within existing settlements. The inspector said that this policy support and the fact that the site was sustainable, being close to the shops and facilities of Middleton St George and well connected by public transport, attracted “significant weight in favour of the appeal proposal”.

Middleton concluded that the benefits of the scheme, including the provision of affordable and market housing in an area of “urgent” housing need and proposed funding towards education, sports and transport, were not outweighed by the adverse impacts including harm to the character, appearance and openness of the countryside.

Court Rules Website Only Consultation Insufficient to Meet SEA Directive


[consultation on a] sustainability appraisal, had breached a European Union directive that sought to ensure the members of the public were aware of the likely environmental effects of developments. In these consultations, the Council had contacted certain members of the public directly, but had only advertised the consultation to the general public on its own website.

Mr Justice Lindblom said that, in relying on its website alone “as the sole means by which it invited the general public to comment on the draft plan and its sustainability appraisal but also as the sole means by which it made known to them that this is what it was doing”, the Council had failed effectively to notify the public in accordance with the directive.

The judge decided, however, that it would not be “reasonable or proportionate” to make an order quashing policies in the SAP or remitting them to the Council and directing further consultation.

Mr Justice Lindblom said that, while the Council had consulted the public “in a less than wholly effective way” in relation to the sustainability appraisal, it had produced a legally valid environmental report “in a timely manner” and had acted “in good faith”.,,

To strike down an adopted plan, whether in whole or in part, is always a draconian step for the court to take,” concluded Mr Justice Lindblom. “To do that here would be disproportionate and wrong.”