Lewis moots local connection test for Starter Homes

Local planning authorities could be given the flexibility to introduce a test to ensure that new discounted Starter Homes are made available to local first-time buyers, housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis has signalled.

Lewis: says exceptional circumstances may warrant a local connection test
Lewis: says exceptional circumstances may warrant a local connection test

Speaking last week during the committee stage of the Housing and Planning Bill, Lewis said "there may be exceptional circumstances where a local connection test could be warranted" for Starter Homes – sold at 20 per cent below the market price to first-time buyers under the age of 40.

Lewis told MPs that the government wants to see rural exception sites being used for Starter Homes. "A local connection test has long been a common feature of rural exception sites where opportunities for new housing supply are limited," he said.

"We will be seeking views shortly on whether local planning authorities should have the flexibility to introduce a local connection test for Starter Homes being developed through that route where there is a clear justification for such a test, as part of our forthcoming consultation on changes to national planning policy to support Starter Homes delivery."

Lewis was responding to a Labour amendment, which was subsequently withdrawn.

Shadow housing and planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods had said: "A number of developers and local authorities have given evidence to the committee suggesting that they are worried about how they will prioritise the people who should be given access to Starter Homes if, as we expect, demand in some areas will outstrip supply, especially in the short term."

The Housing and Planning Bill includes a clause that would enable the secretary of state, through regulations, to require all permissions for residential development above a certain size to include a planning obligation securing a certain proportion of Starter Homes.

Lewis suggested that local planning authorities may be granted the flexibility to seek cash payments from developers to provide Starter Homes off site, rather than there being a mandatory requirement for Starter Homes to be built on all reasonably sized sites.

Lewis said the government intends to set out in regulations the proportion of Starter Homes that it expects to be delivered on each conventional housing site.

"My department will bring forward proposals in a technical consultation to be launched shortly," he said. "We want to look carefully at the proportion of Starter Homes required on conventional housing sites and also at any exemptions from the requirement."

Lewis said the requirement "will ensure that Starter Homes become a common feature of new residential developments across England".

"The requirement is expected, in most cases, to require a proportion of Starter Homes on residential developments of a certain size to be secured … through a section 106 planning obligation," he said.

"However, it is envisaged that a degree of flexibility to reflect the different nature of residential developments and viability pressures across the country – for instance, the option of commuted sums for off-site Starter Home requirements – may be more appropriate for some developments."

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