London property body calls for reopening of affordable housing negotiations to tackle pandemic impacts

A body representing central London property owners, developers and advisors has written to the government seeking a raft of changes to the planning system in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including measures to allow previously-agreed affordable housing numbers to be renegotiated.

The City of London (pic: Getty)
The City of London (pic: Getty)

The London Property Alliance, which is made up of the Westminster Property Association and the City Property Association, has written to the housing secretary Robert Jenrick urging him to introduce a range of changes to the planning system in the capital in light of the pandemic.

Under measures to "support future housing delivery", the letter says the pandemic "may well fundamentally change aspects of it, including how much community infrastructure levy (CIL) and affordable housing developments can contribute, whilst still making sure they are built".

It suggests that a previous mechanism known as section 106BA is "reintroduced to allow for discussions to be reopened with local authorities to make changes, where necessary, to support continued construction".

In 2016, ministers announced the repeal of section 106BA which allowed developers to challenge affordable housing obligations. Under the mechanism, introduced as part of the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, developers unhappy with an affordable housing obligation could apply to a council to have it modified under section 106BA of the Town and Country Planning Act.

The letter also calls for the government to allow "more flexibility for staging or delaying CIL payments, whilst construction is curtailed". This echoes concerns raised by lawyers earlier in the month in relation to the operation of the CIL system during the pandemic.

Other changes sought by the body include an automatic two-year extension of existing planning permissions for major development due to expire over the next 12 months. It adds that "outside of this proposed automatic renewal, applicants should be able to apply to the local planning authority to renew or extend all existing planning permissions".

Similar calls were made earlier this month by the British Property Federation, the Home Builders Federation and the Royal Town Planning Institute who urged the government to follow Scotland's lead and allow the automatic extensions of planning permissions due to expire during the coronavirus crisis.

The letter also says that the government should introduce alterations to Class A use classes - related to shop uses - "to improve high street flexibility after COVID-19, given that this crisis will have accelerated structural change".

It adds that, "in the short to medium term, we suggest a creation of a new permitted development right for temporary changes of use for periods of up to five years to allow premises in Class A1 uses to change to other innovative and experiential uses that are outside of that use class, in advance of more extensive reform".

"This could include service-type uses as well as experiential and showroom retail. A condition could be imposed preventing late evening and night-time operation to manage potential adverse effects on residential amenity."

The body also calls for the government to "ensure all London planning authorities are adequately resourced, both now and in the longer term, to implement these changes and support growth post COVID-19".

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