Housing Bill not clear on combining new homes and significant infrastructure

Alex Bullock, WYG senior planner

Developers face uncertainty over the option of building permanent housing in Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, says Alex Bullock

A notable feature of the Housing and Planning Bill is a move to allow some permanent housing as part of a Development Consent Order (DCO).

The 2008 Planning Act only allows for temporary accommodation in these circumstances - unhelpful to both developers of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) and local planning authorities. The new Bill’s provisions allow NSIP developers to deliver a small amount of housing, including affordable homes, as part of any DCO. 

On the face of it, this looks to be good news for developers and local authorities but, in practice, will it be a help or hindrance?

Restrictions on housing provision

The Bill’s provisions allow infrastructure developers to deliver a small amount of housing as part of any DCO. Unsurprisingly, there are restrictions:

  • There must be a functional need for the housing, for example for construction workers.
  • The housing, if not functionally linked, must be near the NSIP project.
  • Projects must be fully within England and cannot only consist of housing.
  • Housing should be provided within one mile of any component of the infrastructure.
  • Where no functional need exists, developers will be expected to provide affordable housing (compliant with relevant Local Plan policies) and Starter Homes, all of which will be controlled through Section 106 Agreements.
  • A maximum limit of 500 dwellings  - this is expected to be set, with far less allowed in more sensitive locations such as in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Green Belt land, or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. 

In the grips of a housing crisis, a further avenue for housing delivery is to be welcomed.

The policy shift does allow developers greater flexibility when they are considering bringing NSIP projects forward, in particular the construction and operation phases.

There is a clear viability benefit to NSIP schemes if a housing element can be added to the mix and the change may encourage NSIP developers to form partnership arrangements with traditional house builders to deliver both elements.

Location and local impact

But the solution to the housing crisis doesn’t just lie in the numbers. Homes need to be built in the right locations. Providing legacy housing close to a nuclear power station may not always be the most ideal use of resources or in the wider public interest.

There is another potential snag. The draft supporting guidance suggests that the housing elements will need to be considered against the provisions of both the National Planning Policy Framework and other national guidance whilst the local development plan may “also be relevant”.

A procedural part of the 2008 Act is that local authorities submit a local impact report (LIR), giving details of the likely impact of the proposed development on the authority’s area. LIR responses will depend upon wider considerations, such as local supply positions, and housing proposals under the provisions of the Bill may be assessed in very different ways.

This could potentially lead to conflict with the general ethos of the UK planning system, which gives policies within an adopted development top priority in the decision-making process. 

It will be for the examining authority, the Planning Inspectorate, to ultimately decide the balance of considerations and developers should prepare themselves for uncertainty.

Alex Bullock, is Senior Planner at WYG

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