For developers bringing forward any residential development, the affordable housing package will be one of the most important elements of ensuring a scheme actually gets consent – particularly in the current political and policy environment. But while it is easy to focus only on those crucial headlines – number of units, tenure, and size – it is important to keep an eye on what comes after planning permission. Most of the time, this will mean doing a deal with a registered provider, which will have its own preferences as to how the deal should be structured and how the units will be managed. Here are our top 5 points for developers to be aware of.
1. Think carefully about section 106 restrictions …
One of the top priorities of the local planning authority will be to ensure that the affordable housing package is adequately secured in a section 106 agreement. While every agreement is different, they all generally contain two key things.
First, a requirement to build the affordable housing units and sell the freehold or a lease (usually at least 125 years) to a registered provider. This will typically be drafted in the form of what is known as a “Grampian” restriction: a requirement to do something (ie build and sell affordable housing units) before you do something else (ie occupy your valuable market housing).
Second, there will be a restriction stating that the units to be provided as affordable housing cannot be occupied for anything other than the tenure set out in the agreement.
How these provisions are drafted is hugely important. An improperly drafted Grampian restriction, or one which doesn’t take into account the circumstances and programme of the scheme, could unreasonably prevent or delay the most valuable parts of the development from being occupied – therefore impacting on sales, funding and, ultimately, viability.
2. … and then make sure you pass them down
If the section 106 agreement obliges you as the developer to do something in relation to affordable housing – eg to maintain the housing in a particular tenure, or to keep the service charge low – you will want to pass this obligation down to the registered provider. The transaction documents should therefore be back to back with the section 106 so nothing falls through the gaps.
This will involve an analysis of whether it is appropriate for you as developer or the registered provider, or both parties, to fulfil the relevant obligations taking account of the respective land interests and rights.
You will need to pay particular attention to what could go wrong to prevent any restriction being lifted on the market homes – like, what would happen if the registered provider you are selling to goes insolvent, or ceases to be recognised as a registered provider? All these issues will need to be thought about and catered for in the transaction documents.
3. Think carefully about where the affordable units sit within the estate management structure
The registered provider’s preference will typically be to take all of the affordable units in a single transfer or a single block lease. A developer may prefer to retain control over the common areas within the block. This will ensure the provision of services and recovery of service charge is consistent across the estate (but see point 4 below). If the registered provider accepts that approach, it may seek greater control over the management company responsible for the block (eg through shares in the management company and voting rights) but whether this is acceptable to a developer will depend on the number of units and their configuration within the block.
4. Test whether the estate service charge works for the affordable units
The registered provider will be very keen to ensure that the service charge for the affordable units is as low as possible – particularly given that some tenures involve rent caps that are inclusive of service charge (there may also be specific covenants regarding service charge within the section 106 agreement). In the service charge provisions in the lease, the registered provider will seek to reduce the developer’s discretion as to which services are provided and will want wide consultation rights. Depending on the nature of the development, the registered provider may want certain non-essential service charge items excluded (for example the costs of concierge services or an on-site gym), but please note that this may cause reputational issues for the developer as highlighted in recent news articles where affordable tenants have not been able to utilise all of the amenities provided at new development sites.
5. Think about utility supplies to affordable units
It is likely that a registered provider will require that its tenants enter into direct supply agreements with the utilities providers rather than have utilities charged through the service charge (which would put the credit risk on the registered provider as the direct tenant of the developer). Again, you will need to think through carefully how utility services are procured and managed for the affordable units and how this ties in with utility arrangements for the wider estate.
In summary there are lots of issues to be thought through when dealing with a registered provider and reaching agreement with a registered provider on the disposal of the affordable units will require careful consideration. As such, we recommend that solicitors are instructed at an early stage to ensure that the transaction documents deal with the requirements of the section 106 agreement and are consistent with the developer’s plans for the remainder of the estate.
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