London mayor confirms 'threshold approach' to affordable housing

Developments in the capital which do not meet a 35 per cent affordable housing threshold, or require public subsidy to do so, will be required to submit 'detailed viability information' to the Greater London Authority (GLA) to be 'scrutinised and treated transparently', according to planning guidance published today.

London mayor Sadiq Khan
London mayor Sadiq Khan

The Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG), published today by London mayor Sadiq Khan, sets out the mayor’s approach to increasing the levels of affordable housing, while also speeding up decisions in the planning system.

A key aspect of the plan is a new "threshold approach", whereby schemes meeting or exceeding 35 per cent affordable housing without public subsidy (or 50 per cent where on public land, without grant) can follow a new "Fast Track Route".

The document says that this means applicants "are not required to submit viability information at the application stage, and applications are subject to review mechanisms only if an agreed level of progress on implementation has not been achieved within two years of consent being granted or as agreed with the local planning authority".

Schemes that do not meet this threshold are required to follow a "Viability Tested Route", under which applicants "must submit detailed viability information which will be scrutinised and treated transparently", the guidance says.

In addition, the document says, "comprehensive early and late stage review mechanisms will be applied to schemes that do not meet the threshold or require public subsidy to do so".

Elsewhere, the SPG sets out situations in which the mayor may call in or direct a planning refusal. These situations include where the mayor "considers that opportunities for affordable housing may have been missed for reasons such as the unsatisfactory provision or insufficient scrutiny of viability information".

Khan has been outspoken over a decision by the London Borough of Wandsworth to allow the developer behind the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station to cut the originally proposed level of affordable homes provided by the scheme.

In a relation to this, the guidance says that any future proposed amendments that result in a reduction in affordable housing, affordability or other obligations or requirements of the original permission "should be rigorously assessed under the Viability Tested Route".

It says that the mayor "should be consulted where a scheme amendment is proposed that changes the level of affordable housing from that which was secured through the original planning permission".

A statement issued alongside the SPG also confirms that City Hall officials have written to all London councils "urging them to make use of the mayor's expert viability team if developers try to reduce affordable housing levels after planning permission has been granted".

The SPG also:

  • Provides detailed guidance on viability assessments, aiming to establish a "standardised" approach.
  • Says that, where a scheme meets the 35 per cent affordable housing threshold, it may be "appropriate to explore the potential to increase densities on a case-by-case basis to enable the delivery of additional affordable homes where this meets exemplary design standards".
  • Says that the percentage of affordable housing in a scheme "should be measured by habitable rooms to ensure that a range of sizes of affordable homes can be delivered, including family sized homes, taking account of local mix policies and having regard to site specific circumstances."
  • Sets out a preferred tenure split for schemes to deliver at least 30 per cent low cost rent (social rent or affordable rent); at least 30 per cent as intermediate products, with London Living Rent and/or shared ownership being the default tenures; the remaining 40 per cent to be determined by the council.
  • Says that "the mayor’s view is that in most circumstances it will not be appropriate" to apply the controversial vacant building credit in London.

Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) can be read here. 

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