Claims of segregation of social housing tenants from private housing elements of mixed use schemes have been in the press regularly over the past three years. The location of affordable housing has also been a determining factor on recent major appeals. The rights of access to key facilities – such as swimming pools and gyms has become a hot potato issue locally too.
The drive to maximise affordable housing yield from schemes has had some unintended consequences:
- Getting to the ‘right’ quantum to satisfy Fast Track thresholds on schemes where viability is acknowledged by all parties to be challenging often means the least valuable market housing floor space is ‘sacrificed’ as affordable housing. Using the most valuable areas can have a double whammy effect on the revenue needed to cross-subsidise the affordable space. This can create a perception of segregation;
- Different specifications, service levels and management regimes have tended to drive separate building ‘cores’, often to avoid creating unfair or unsustainable service charge arrangements. Developments are then criticised for segregating social housing residents from private residents by separating entrances, blocks and amenity spaces.
In response, Government has encouraged developers to:
- to adopt the concept of tenure blindness;
- adopt inclusive design (via the 2019 new Communities Framework which set out planning guidance and a new Design Manual).
In London, the screw has been tightening:
- The current London Plan calls for “mixed communities” and the emerging New London Plan seeks to promote “Inclusive Design” by requiring Design and Access statements to include inclusive design statements.
- The London Housing Strategy (May 2018) stated that in order to achieve genuinely affordable housing, authorities should consider the amount of floorspace devoted to ‘high-end’ communal facilities on specific schemes.
- The former deputy-mayor of London, James Murray, suggested that “it would be plain wrong if residents in the London living rent homes were not able to access memberships to the leisure facilities.” The “expectation [is] that these facilities must be available to all residents.”
- The New London Plan goes one step further – setting out detailed expectations that developments be inclusively designed to create spaces and places that can facilitate social integration.
The New London Plan highlights that “inclusive” means:
- Ensuring that people are able to easily access services, facilities and amenities that are relevant to them.
- The internal environment of developments should meet the highest standards in terms of access and inclusion.
- Whilst entrances into buildings should be easily identifiable and should allow everyone to use them independently without additional effort, separation or special treatment.
Many more schemes have already embraced this approach in any event, but the spotlight is shifting to how access rights are secured.
Access Rights and Charges
Local decision-makers are increasingly concerned about the impact of expensive service charges (to pay for concierges, entrances, gyms and gardens) on ‘masked’ segregation. Authorities are increasingly investigating the scope for planning enforcement in relation to developments where residents are barred from facilities based on tenure. For most consented developments there is in reality little to enforce against.
As a result, planners are being pushed harder to secure access to the wide range of facilities that now form part of the place making and experience offer for larger schemes. This gives rise to real challenges in terms of:
- the planning judgement about what facilities are necessary for public / resident access;
- how access rights are meaningfully secured when consenting development;
- how such rights are paid for;
- how these charges are regulated over time in the absence of a not for profit management arrangement.
This goes wider than technical drafting solutions and touches on long-term stewardship and inclusion policies that will increasingly need to form part of the DNA of major schemes.
With thanks to Amy Carter for assistance with this blog.