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Councils hit back after minister attacks affordable housing policy legal challenge

The two councils that challenged a Government policy on affordable housing and small-scale sites have defended their decision to bring legal action, after a minister claimed the proceedings were "a total waste of taxpayers' money".

West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council have expressed their “extreme disappointment” at last week’s Court of Appeal ruling. They also said they were considering their options in relation to applying for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Through a written ministerial statement issued in November 2014, the Department for Communities and Local Government had said developments of 10 units or 1000 sq m or less (including annexes and extensions) would be excluded from affordable housing levies and tariff-based contributions.

In designated rural areas, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, developments of five units or less would be excluded, the policy added. Developments of between six and ten units would be subjected to a commuted sum payable on or after completion.

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Last Wednesday (11 May) the Communities Secretary was successful on all four grounds of his appeal against Mr Justice Holgate’s ruling in favour of the councils in the HIgh Court.

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis subsequently claimed that the challenge had been “a total waste of taxpayers’ money” and that the uncertainty the case had created amongst housebuilders had “stalled new development from coming through”.

But in a statement issued this week, the two councils argued that the Court of Appeal decision would “make it harder to deliver desperately-needed affordable homes in both areas”.

They also highlighted how the decision to bring a judicial review challenge had helped them secure contributions to local infrastructure in both areas.

The statement said that – between the issuing of the written ministerial statement and the decision of the Court of Appeal – West Berkshire had agreed more than £1.4m in contributions from developers and secured an additional 13 affordable housing units, while Reading had agreed more than £1.2m in contributions from developers and secured an additional three affordable housing units.

Cllr James Fredrickson, West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Legal Services, said: “Far from being a waste of taxpayers’ money our judicial review has ensured our ability to secure commitments of more than £1m from developers to provide essential infrastructure across our district.

“The requirement for developers to make contributions on smaller developments has not had a negative impact on planning applications or developments in any way. In fact, we’ve exceeded our expectations and delivered more than 600 new homes in West Berkshire over the last year.

“Both councils remain committed to providing affordable homes and together we are considering our options in light of the Court of Appeal decision.”

Cllr Tony, Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: “In Reading we make absolutely no apology for challenging the Government on the issue of the lack of affordable homes. There continues to be an acute need for affordable housing in Reading, as anybody attempting to get on the property ladder will testify.

“The cost to the council of challenging the Government was in the region of £40,000, and it is noteworthy that the Court of Appeal ruled that the councils should only make a minimal contribution towards the Government’s costs on this matter. Set alongside the £1.2m in developer contributions Reading Borough Council has secured for the town, the benefit to Reading of this challenge was clear. Along with West Berkshire we will now consider options going forward.”

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