Preston City Council: Extract from Cabinet Report

1.            Summary

1.1         The Council has a policy in place to accept a proportion of affordable housing as an off- site or commuted sum contribution. This report considers the options for making use of such contributions to ensure the delivery of additional affordable housing and recommends that the current funding available is invested in bringing long term empty homes into use.

2.            Decision Required

2.1         Members are recommended to:

  • Approve the use of affordable housing commuted sums in principle to bring long term empty homes back into use as affordable housing
  • Instruct the Director of Development, in consultation with the Executive Member for Planning and Regulation, to develop a scheme to put forward for member approval at a future meeting

3.            Affordable Housing

3.1         The provision of affordable housing is a policy requirement placed on local planning authorities by government through the National Planning Policy Framework. Paragraph   47 of the Framework requires local planning authorities to use their evidence base to ensure that the local plan meets the housing needs of the area, including the need for affordable housing and paragraph 50 requires that, where local planning authorities have identified a need for affordable housing, they should set policies to meet the need. That need should be met on site unless off-site provision or a financial contribution of broadly equivalent value can be robustly justified.

3.2         Planning Policy relating to the provision of affordable housing in Preston is set out in Policy 7 of the Central Lancashire Core Strategy, adopted by the Council in July 2012.  The Core Strategy, and consequently the policies in it, including Policy 7 were found to be consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework during the independent examination.

3.3         Policy 7 of the Core Strategy sets targets for affordable housing from new developments of 30% in urban areas and 35% in rural areas on sites in or adjoining villages, other than rural exception sites. The requirement is placed on all developments meeting the minimum site size thresholds set out in the policy of 15 dwellings in urban areas or 5 dwellings in rural areas (this latter has now been superseded by a national threshold of   10 dwellings although there are circumstances when the 5 dwelling threshold would still  be appropriate).

3.4         The policy provides that where robustly justified, off-site provision or  financial  contributions of a broadly equivalent value will be acceptable where the site or location is unsustainable for affordable or special housing.

3.5         The future flow of commuted sums for affordable housing from new housing  developments is likely to be significant. Sufficient land is identified in the Preston Local Plan, including allocations and permissions to deliver over 10,000 new homes in Preston of which approximately 8,600 are expected to be delivered in the plan period 2012-26. Of these approximately 7,800 are on sites from which a 30% or 35% affordable housing contribution could be expected i.e. approximately 2,400 affordable houses. Assuming a third of these consist of commuted sums, there is potential for millions of pounds to be available for affordable housing.

3.6         Members will recall that Cabinet considered a report on 11th March 2015 on affordable housing and commuted sums.  Cabinet resolved to support the principle of accepting up to a third of the affordable housing requirement, e.g. in urban areas 10% of the total housing, by means of a commuted sum or off-site contribution. Circumstances where such a provision would be justified include, but are not confined to:

  • where a market housing scheme is proposed in a location that is not suitable for a proportion of affordable housing to be provided on site because of a lack of local services
  • the opportunity to meet housing needs more effectively in another location, where there is already a high proportion of affordable housing available in the vicinity of the new development
  • where off-site provision can provide more affordable housing units than on-site provision
  • where a development is in a high value area such that better value could be achieved through procuring affordable housing elsewhere
  • where off-site provision will contribute to other policy objectives, for example enabling long term empty homes to be brought back into use or where the development location is unsuitable for affordable housing.

3.7         These are not mutually exclusive and off-site contributions can bring a range of  benefits

  • a decrease in the number of affordable houses built on site increases the number  of units that are liable for the Community Infrastructure Levy and therefore there is a greater CIL receipt on new housing sites to contribute to the infrastructure needs arising from those sites
  • allowing off-site contributions has the potential to enable stalled sites within the inner city area to be brought back into development by for example supporting registered provider development on such sites
  • using off-site contributions to bring long term empty homes back into use  contributes to the provision of a wide range of affordable housing in terms of size, tenure and sustainable locations. New Homes Bonus is  also  available on  long term empty homes brought back into use.

3.8         Since the Council resolved through Cabinet to accept commuted sums or off-site contributions in  lieu of part of the on-site affordable housing requirement, a total of £455,000 has been secured through S106 agreements.

Options for using commuted sums

3.9         Options for making use of the commuted sums that become available to support the delivery of affordable housing include

  • Bringing forward local authority owned sites and property for redevelopment where appropriate to provide affordable housing
  • Supporting registered providers with their own schemes to provide a range of affordable housing
  • Working with registered providers and other agencies/property owners  to bring  long term empty properties back into use as affordable housing.

3.10      The first option is particularly relevant in making best use of land or property that the Council owns and which may be surplus to requirements. It is also potentially an option that would support other initiatives such as the Housing Zone by enabling identified property to be brought back into residential use. It is, however, a medium to long term option and will depend on matters the viability of bringing sites into use for housing. In particular the Council depot at St Paul’s Road, which has been investigated as a possible housing site, and which is allocated as such in the Preston Local Plan, has a number of ground and viability constraints that indicate at the moment that its redevelopment for housing is not a viable option.

3.11      The second option would enable the Council, working with partner registered providers of social housing, to bring forward brownfield sites for redevelopment for new  social  housing. This is also a medium to long term option as it will require matters such as land assembly to be taken into account. There is also at present caution in the social housing sector as a result of changes to registered providers’ funding following changes set out in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and associated policy announcements, including the year on year reductions in rent and the extension of the right to buy.

3.12      The third option builds on work that has been successfully carried out in Preston with Methodist Action North West to bring long term empty homes back into use. This is potentially a quick win in terms of delivering affordable housing as it extends an existing model that is already familiar and successful.

Long Term Empty Homes

3.13      There will always be some empty dwellings in the total stock within any local authority area and a proportion of empty stock is necessary to allow for ‘churn’ to permit the  housing market to function efficiently and effectively. Most will be reoccupied within a relatively short space of time but some will become empty and remain so into a longer period. The latest statistics published by DCLG at a base date of 5th October 2015 and based on the annual council tax base return indicate that out of a total stock of 61,290 dwellings in Preston, 2,289 (3.73%) were vacant and of these 866 were classed as long term empty properties (38% of all vacant properties and 1.4% of the total housing stock). Comparisons with the national and regional figures are set out in the following table. The number of long term empty properties as a percentage of the total stock is higher than in England and the North West region and is comparable with Merseyside. It is slightly lower than the percentage in Lancashire, which includes figures for East Lancashire but long term empty properties form a higher percentage of all empty properties than in the County as a whole.

3.14      DCLG defines a long-term empty property as being any property that has been vacant for 6 months or longer. Properties that have been empty for 2 years or more and are largely unfurnished are liable for a 50% increase on council tax. Approximately 250 long term empty dwellings fell into this category in 2015.

3.15      Empty properties are a wasted resource, both locally and nationally, and have a devastating effect on neighbourhoods and local communities. They can:

  • become an eyesore to the detriment of the local environment
  • contribute to a cycle of decline in neighbourhoods
  • lead to a loss of pride in local communities
  • have a negative impact on community safety, the economy and the health and well-being of local people
  • become a magnet for fly-tipping,  crime and anti-social behaviour
  • create problems for nearby and adjacent properties
  • cause extra costs for property owners
  • cause a drop in the value of property
  • lead to loss of revenue to the Council in terms of council tax and New Homes Bonus. By reducing and preventing empty homes the Council can help to deal with these issues. It can help to sustain communities, improve neighbourhoods and reduce cost for society

3.16      Government planning policy is that local planning authorities should identify and bring back into residential use empty housing and buildings in line with local housing and empty homes strategies including, where appropriate, acquiring properties under compulsory purchase powers. The Council’s current Empty Homes Strategy 2014-19 includes an action to reduce the overall numbers of private sector long term empty properties and link the supply of housing brought back into use with the demand  for social and affordable housing, including developing new projects with various organisations, using residential and commercial properties to offer a variety of affordable housing around the City.


Published in March 2018