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The Scottish Government recently published the latest planning policy for Scotland. The main media highlights of this seem to have been the once-popular tradition of hutting featuring for the first time and including a prohibition on wind farms in our National Parks.

But the delivery of affordable homes is also a key part of Scotland’s planning policy.

How can the planning system help deliver affordable homes? Well, as a condition of the planning permission granted to developers, local planning authorities can require that a certain percentage of a new housing development is developed for affordable housing. In general this is possible because the landowner receives a large positive value for the land which is sold for mainstream housing, and so can accept a reduced value for land to be developed for affordable housing.

This contribution is a significant one; in our report ‘Planning to meet the need: delivering affordable housing in Scotland’ published in April 2014 we found that around a third of all affordable housing built in Scotland between 2007/08 and 2011/12 – over 10,000 affordable houses – involved some form of contribution from the planning system. With 155,100 households on local authority waiting lists across Scotland and the consistent failure to build the 10,000 new social homes we believe Scotland needs per year, the role the planning system plays in affordable housing delivery becomes increasingly important.

So, what does the new planning policy have to say about affordable housing?

In terms of market housing, a contribution from a developer should “generally be no more than 25% of the total number of houses” and where a development is for specialist housing – e.g. housing for older people – a “contribution to affordable housing may not always be required”. The new policy also mentions the importance of considering the current economic climate when deciding the percentage of affordable housing to be delivered.

Previously a 25% contribution to affordable housing was a “benchmark” figure, with the possibility for local flexibility and there was no exemption for specialist housing. Our fear is that these changes could reduce the number of affordable homes being delivered from the planning system.

Shelter Scotland believes that planning policy should set out a bold, long-term view of Scotland’s need for affordable housing, and not react to short-term economic conditions. If we are about to enter into another period of inflation in the housing market – in part fuelled by Help to Buy as recent reports have suggested – then this is even more important; we must not forget about Scotland’s chronic lack of socially rented homes and the role the planning system can play in delivering these.

While the new planning policy addresses some of our initial concerns about the first draft – in particular the concern that all specialist housing would be exempt from an affordable housing requirements – this is by and large the same document. The policy implies a cap on developer contributions and opens the door for local authorities to draft affordable housing policies which exempt all developments for specialist housing – including high value market housing for older people – from affordable housing requirements. This is not the long-term plan for affordable housing that Scotland needs, particularly as we continue to fail to keep pace with the growing demand for low-cost and secure housing.

Time alone will tell whether developers will make a case for lower affordable housing contributions by suggesting that 25% affordable housing is the very maximum they can deliver. Even though in many areas of Scotland – generally high-value areas where affordable housing is particularly needed – 25% affordable housing can be achieved, and is being achieved regularly.

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