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22nd November 2022

Winning appeals with good evidence on affordable housing

We have all heard of appeals where the affordable housing contribution has tipped the scales in favour of the development, but in practice how do you make a convincing case? In fact it's never been more straightforward thanks to readily available statistics, as long as you know where to look.

There are three key sources of evidence:

  1. The Local Plan's affordable housing target;
  2. Evidence of affordable housing need; and
  3. Evidence of affordable housing delivery.

A comparison between these three quickly exposes any local problems and provides firm evidence you can put before a Planning Inspector. 

1. The Local Plan affordable housing target

Many Local Plans contain a specific target for affordable homes over the plan period. If this cannot be found in a specific policy, try searching the Plan's explanatory text, the Plan's aims & objectives, and its monitoring sections.

The target for the number of affordable dwellings may be expressed as a percentage of the whole housing requirement (eg. 40% of 15,000 over the plan period of 15 years).  You can easily convert this to an equivalent annual figure (eg. 40% of 1,000pa, or 400 affordable per annum) for comparison with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) regular statistics.

It's a rare local planning authority that meets its affordable housing target. Fortunately we are no longer reliant on Authority Monitoring Reports (AMRs) to identify shortfalls in delivery but can now use DLUHC's annual statistics detailed below. Furthermore, DLUHC's statistics also allow us to identify if the affordable housing need has changed since the Local Plan was adopted.

2. Evidence of affordable housing needs

The two main sources of evidence are:

a. Housing waiting lists for social rented or affordable housing

b. Measures of how unaffordable market housing has become in the area. This is the key underlying driver of affordable housing needs.

Taking these in turn:

2a. Waiting lists for affordable housing

Long waiting lists for affordable housing are common, but it can be difficult to find these figures on local authority websites.  Instead evidence on housing need to support your planning appeal case is quickly and simply found in DLUHC's Table 600: numbers of households on local authorities' housing waiting lists, by district. This usefully shows change over time.

Local authorities periodically "purge" their housing waiting lists by asking housing associations/ Registered Providers to get applicants to re-apply. This is undoubtably necessary to remove people who have moved away or whose circumstances have changed. It does however lead to years when waiting lists suddenly drop, often by thousands of people. Be aware that the accuracy of a housing waiting list can be a matter of contention, although it will be a brave local authority to argue at an appeal that its own data sources on housing need are suspect.

2b. The local affordability ratio

National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) sets out in the 'Standard Method' the Government's choice of statistics for measuring housing pressure. It is of course the local affordability ratio as set out in table 5c in the Office of National Statistics ratio of house prices to workplace based earnings.  This is used to identify how unaffordable housing is locally. For example, a ratio of 10.64 (Trafford, Greater Manchester) means the median house price is over 10 times median salaries. Contrast with Hartlepool where the ratio is 4.12, or Windsor & Maidenhead where the ratio is 14.15, and you get the picture.

The local affordability ratio is for the year ending September and is published the following March. It can be useful for showing how unaffordable a LPA is compared to its neighbours, or the trend over time. Be aware the pandemic hike in house prices and subsequent slump affects the most recent figures.

3. Affordable housing delivery by LPA

DLUHC also provide crucial statistics on whether affordable housing needs are actually being met. Its detailed statistics on affordable housing delivery and starts for 2022-23 were published in December 2023. Particularly useful are:

  • Table 1008S provides the total number of starts on site, by local authority;
  • Table 1008C provides the total number of completions, by local authority;
  • For tenure breakdown see Tables 1006 (social rent), 1006a (affordable rent), 1007a (intermediate rent), 1007b (shared ownership) and 1007c (affordable home ownership).

It is worth noting that the tenure of affordable dwellings can be significant. For example, some local planning authorities give less weight to affordable home ownership than they do to social rent.

A useful automatic calculation of all the affordable housing components for a single local planning authority is available in the separate Table 1011 – just select the LPA and years of interest to display the results.

For a deeper dive into local authority housing statistics, DLUHC published a new compilation of statistics (sadly, 15 months out of date at the time of their publication) in June 2023 on their Housing Statistics Data Returns webpage. This presents waiting list and affordable housing delivery data in a slightly different format.

Comparison with the LPA's target for affordable housing delivery exposes just how much of a shortfall exists, providing firm evidence to which a planning Inspector must have regard.

Weight given to affordable housing in appeals

NPPF paragraph 8 requires that planning should, “support strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by ensuring that a sufficient number and range of homes can be provided”. Clearly affordable housing within a scheme helps deliver this objective and it is acknowledged to be a priority both for central Government and for Local Planning Authorities.  However there is little guidance on how much weight a decision maker should give to affordable housing in making their balanced planning judgment. This is where firm statistics can make a significant difference. If there is good evidence of a specific shortfall of affordable housing, an appeal Inspector is much more likely to give more weight to the benefits of the development in helping to meet this need.

For example, appeal 3271340 for up to 36 dwellings at Maplewell Road, Woodhouse Eaves, was refused by Charnwood Borough Council.  In his appeal decision, the Inspector gave “significant weight to the provision of affordable housing here, with its associated social benefits”.  It's much easier for an Inspector to give greater weight if the appellant has provided firm evidence in their appeal Statement of Case.

To find appeals that can help strengthen your appeal Statement of Case see our Home page.