Starter Homes and Vacant Buildings Credit Shoot Each Other in Dual

Imagine you had someone like Alex (half baked) Morton in your Local Plans team, former Policy Exchanger now Number 10 Housing and Planning Adviser.  The kind of freewheeling but poorly analytical planning assistant that was forever coming up with policy ideas for the local plan that cancelled each other out.

‘Why dont we require more affordable housing in Mixed use schemes in the Deangate area ‘

‘But Alex you just suggested we dedesignate this area from mixed use zoning’

‘How does that make a difference?’


Tthere then follows half an hour attempted futile explanation from the head of local plans.

Almost every local plan team has an Alex.  Sadly quite a few are heads of local plans.

Imagine though you had one in effect running new planning policy initiatives which then get put into Prim Ministerial Speeches unedited.

A disaster, as it has turned out.

A funny if it wasn’t so serious example is he greatest disaster so far in a long long list of policy disasters.

1) Vacant buildings credit, you get a discount for vacant and  redeveloped floorspace off affordable housing.  So if you replace X floorspace of industry with X floorspace of residential you dont need any affordable housing.

2) Starter Homes, for vacant and underused industrial sites you dont need affordable housing.

What Alex didn’t realise is that  2) will never apply and so never be an ‘exception’ to anything as affordable housing will already be exempted under 1, unless there is a net increase in floorspace.  So starter homes are an exemption to an exemption to buildings that in most cases are already exempt – especially in denser areas like Southwalk for example where industrial buildings have high plot coverage and are multistorey.

So the whole cunning plan of matching the Oppositions 200,000 target through 200,000 starter homes dies a death before it is even launched.

And this is how prime ministerial policy is set?

The sadness is that vacant buildings credit was never needed.  Who was lobbying for it?  Was it a wheezes designed to boost brownfield development, but there is already a viability test that is applied every day of the week.  Similarly pretty much every planner knows that exceptions test to a protected land use only applies to uses that can be protected – when the existing use is viable, not as the starter homes policy states where it is unviable.  You really couldn’t make policy up that is so well designed to be ineffective and counterproductive.











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