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Judge's ruling backs FDC stand on affordable housing

An attempt by the Government to allow small developments of less than 11 units to go ahead without any element of affordable housing has been quashed in the High Court.

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The ruling means that the amount of affordable housing to be sought in any new developments will remain at the levels spelt out in Fenland District Council's Local Plan.

The High Court ruling, delivered on July 31, declared a recent Ministerial Statement on the subject to be unlawful. The judge also found that Ministers had been wrong in giving the impression that their statement, issued last November, carried more weight than an adopted Local Plan.

Consequently, the amount of affordable housing that developers will be asked to provide in Fenland will remain at 20 per cent of homes on sites of between five and nine dwellings and 25 per cent on those of ten or more. This is set out in Policy LP5 of the Local Plan that was adopted in May 2014.

The High Court ruling followed a challenge by Reading Borough Council and West Berkshire District Council, who said the effect of the statement would be to reduce the amount of affordable housing across the country by 20 per cent

Councillor John Clark, FDC's leader, said: "The judge's ruling is very welcome in clarifying the situation for all concerned. The Ministerial Statement confused matters and led to significant debate about the proper level of affordable housing that could be sought.

"Ministers had made it clear that they did not want any development scheme below 11 units to be required to include any affordable housing. But the interpretation of their statement varied considerably.

"Ministers and many MPs gave the impression that their statement was sufficient to justify an almost automatic over-ride of any Local Plan policy. Not surprisingly, developers and agents interpreted it in the same way.

"We took a different view. This ruling clearly demonstrates that we were right."

Cllr Will Sutton, the council's deputy leader and Cabinet member responsible for planning policy, said: "The decision to stick with the Local Plan was made after lengthy discussions with officers and was not one we took lightly.

"Although we are obviously very pleased with the High Court decision, in reality it changes very little here. We have always insisted that the adopted Local Plan came first and that the starting point on affordable housing thresholds was Policy LP5. That stance has been vindicated.

"The only change is that while previously we said that we would take the Ministerial Statement into account as a material consideration, that is no longer the case - indeed, the judge has made it clear that it would be unlawful to do so."

The Ministerial Statement has now been withdrawn following the High Court ruling. The Government has signalled its intention to appeal the judgement.

 Article added August 26, 2015