The London approach: Fast-tracking affordable housing schemes in the planning process

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Last month, the GLA published the new Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG).  London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has introduced the guidance as part of an ambitious longer-term strategy for fixing the London housing market and eventually providing 50% affordable for all new homes in London.

Sadiq Khan has described the housing crisis as "the biggest challenge facing Londoners today" which cannot be overcome with a quick fix. The SPG provides a framework that aims to accelerate the affordable housing coming through the planning process, where threshold levels are being met.

Ian Fletcher, director of policy at British Property Federation was positive in his reflections on the new framework: "Delivering a greater number of affordable homes in London is fundamental if the capital is to continue to grow and deliver the vital services that everyone uses… We think the Mayor is right to seek to build as much affordable housing on public land as he can, to the extent that it is also delivering the infrastructure needed and communities that people want to live in."

Under the proposed framework, where a scheme is submitted that proposes a minimum of 35% affordable housing (without public subsidy, or 50% where public land without grant), applicants shall not be required to submit viability information during the application stage. This is to become the new "Fast Track Route", with a review mechanism which will kick in where the agreed level of progress on implementing the scheme has not been met within two years of the permission being granted (or as agreed with the local planning authority). Schemes that do not meet the thresholds to qualify for the Fast Track Route will be required to submit detailed viability information under the "Viability Tested Route" from the outset.

The threshold approach has been met with caution by members of the industry as adaptation to a new system with higher levels of affordable housing where the previous position involved transacting below 35% may cause some slowdown in the marketplace as "the guidance will take time to feed through, creating a temporary hiatus in the market as expectations realign" (Greg Hill, Deputy Chief Executive of Hill).

London boroughs are being strongly encouraged to apply the new threshold approach where a site has a potential capacity for a minimum of 10 homes, and to take the SPG into account when developing new policy.