In November 2014, the Government published a Ministerial Statement which outlined a policy known as 'vacant building credit' whereby buildings which were empty could be given a credit, equivalent to the vacant floorspace of the building, to be set against affordable housing contributions. The policy was always controversial and had not had a high rate of implementation. The same Ministerial Statement also introduced an exemption from section 106 contributions to affordable housing for small developments (10 units or 1,000 sqm or less).
Both policies have now been quashed, following the court decision in West Berkshire District Council and Reading Borough Council v Department for Communities and Local Government (31 July 2015). The Government had hoped that the policies would encourage the bringing of empty buildings back into use, but the court held that they conflicted with other planning policies and the national planning framework, they were introduced without proper consultation and would have led to a substantial reduction in affordable housing provision.
The status of planning applications made and permissions granted between 28 November 2014 and 31 July 2015 which involve vacant building credit or the affordable housing exemption is now uncertain. The case is also likely to have wider implications for Government procedures for introducing future national policies. Since the court's decision, the national planning practice guidance (NPPG) online has been updated with a reference to the case and the relevant paragraphs relating to the Ministerial Statement have been removed (paras 12 – 23 under the 'Planning Obligations' section).
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