Policy H/ES: Exception sites for affordable housing

DRAFT version for various committee meetings.

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What will this policy do?

This policy will set out the circumstances in which rural exception sites and First Homes exception sites would be supported.

Proposed policy direction

This policy will support exception sites in appropriate locations, typically adjoining existing settlements, and that are proportionate in scale to those settlements where there is an identified need. A small amount of market housing will be allowed on exception sites where it can be justified on viability or deliverability grounds. The use of such market housing in the form of custom and self-build housing will be supported. Community-led housing will also be supported on exception sites where it meets an identified need for affordable housing.

Rural exception sites will be allowed in the Green Belt only when it can be demonstrated that non Green Belt alternative sites are not available. First Homes exception sites will not be allowed in the Green Belt.

The Local Plan will encourage Neighbourhood Plans to consider the scope for further encouraging the development of schemes including through the use of community led housing initiatives such as community land trusts, co-housing and co-operatives.

First Homes are a specific kind of discounted market sale housing and fall within the definition of affordable housing for planning purposes. The policy will be tailored to ensure First Homes exception sites are complementary to rather than compete with rural exception sites. This could be through, for example, the use of locally specific criteria to determine eligibility in rural parishes.

Why is this policy needed?

Exception sites are used to deliver affordable housing in perpetuity where sites would not normally be permitted for housing. They are typically located adjacent to a settlement and have not been allocated for housing within a local or neighbourhood plan. The approach to rural exception sites in the current South Cambridgeshire Local Plan has been very successful at delivering such sites to help meet local needs.

Rural exception sites support local communities by prioritising people with a local connection to the village concerned. First Homes exception sites have adapted this idea by focusing on First Homes to support first time buyers across the district. In both cases the scheme should be proportionate to the adjoining settlement and can include an element of market housing to support viability.

The policy will support the delivery of affordable housing, particularly in rural communities where current levels are low and new delivery is restricted by affordable housing only being required on sites of more than 10 dwellings.

The government has recently introduced the concept of a First Homes exception site and they will replace entry-level exception sites. Although, First Homes exception sites will comprise primarily First Homes they can include other affordable housing tenures where there is evidence of need.

The government’s guidance (paragraph 026) on First Homes states that “For plan making, local authorities and neighbourhood planning qualifying bodies are encouraged to set policies which specify their approach to determining the proportionality of First Homes exception site proposals, and the sorts of evidence that they might need in order to properly assess this.”

The same guidance states (paragraph 008) that local authorities can apply their own eligibility criteria such as a local connection criteria, a local income cap or key worker criteria.

The introduction of a First Homes exception site component, with locally specific criteria, to the policy will ensure the policy is complementary to requirements already set out in national planning policy but will support schemes to be more tailored to local needs within Greater Cambridge.

It is important that the policy encourages rural exception sites and First Homes exception sites to work in tandem enabling schemes to come forward across all settlement sizes that address local needs but are also sympathetic to local constraints.

What consultation have we done on this issue?

The First Conversation generated little response on exception sites for affordable housing but there was support for the idea of affordable housing being prioritised for people with a local connection. This is a central tenet of the rural exception site policy.

Additionally, many rural communities in South Cambridgeshire have been consulted on the principle of rural exception schemes through local housing needs surveys and these have produced a clear majority in favour of the approach.

What alternatives did we consider?

1. No Policy - Not considered a reasonable alternative as this would restrict our ability to deliver additional affordable housing where it is most needed.

2. Apply a more restrictive approach to rural exception sites - Not considered a reasonable alternative because previous policies have been successful in bringing forward sites.

3. Apply a more laissez-faire approach to the development of exception sites - This was not identified as the preferred approach as this could lead to rural exception sites being squeezed out by First Homes exception sites, inappropriate sites coming forward and housing mixes being driven more by commercial gain than local need.

Supporting evidence studies and topic papers

  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan: Topic paper 7: Homes

Existing policies in adopted 2018 Local Plans

South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2018

  • Policy H/11: Rural Exception Site Affordable Housing

Cambridge Local Plan 2018 - None

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