Conservatives 2015: Lewis takes aim at 'ridiculous' small site charges

Planning minister Brandon Lewis has signalled his determination to reinstate planning rules exempting developers of small sites from affordable housing section 106 obligations.

Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis
Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis

Speaking at a fringe session at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Lewis identified planning obligations on small sites as a key barrier to housebuilding. 

The minister told the session, organised by the ConservativeHome website, that some local authorities' section 106 requirements are making such sites "completely unviable". 

"That's why we need to change that kind of approach," Lewis said.

Last month, Planning revealed that the government has been granted permission to appeal against a High Court ruling that forced ministers to remove from national planning practice guidance a policy to exempt small developments from affordable housing contributions.

The High Court ruling, handed down in July, quashed the policy, which excluded developments of ten homes or fewer, or 1,000 square metres of floorspace, from the requirement to provide or contribute to affordable housing. The policy had been introduced on 28 November 2014.

Lewis told the fringe meeting: "I'm still very focussed on making sure that if we are building ten homes or less that we make it as accessible for small builders as possible. I'm determined to make sure we deliver on what I did at Christmas time."

Lewis added: "I am still of the view that I was six or nine months or longer ago, that for local authorities to be asking for £145,000 per house in section 106 agreements on sites of six or seven houses is completely ridiculous. And they then complain that nobody is building houses in their areas."

Speaking in the same session, Donna Jones, Conservative leader of Portsmouth City Council, said that viability discussions between local planning authorities and developers are a "really fine balancing act".

She said: "There is a huge impact on local communities when you are having three or four hundred new apartments built, but it's where we draw that line. 

"We just have to hope that we've got senisble council leaders and cabinet members for planning and regeneration around the country pitching it at the right level."

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