Do UK Planning Changes Spell The End Of Social Housing?

modern looking red brick row houses
_JWT5196 photo by Reading News is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
New Council Housing in Reading. An endangered species?

In the midst of the COVID-19 recovery, where rules change from one day to the next, the UK government is rolling out an array of planning reforms. The planning reforms are being billed as part of the country’s economic recovery strategy.1

Social housing in England has been financed by developer levies. The new reforms would exempt businesses developing “small” sites (up to 50 units) from paying any levy at all. On larger sites, the levies will be replaced by a charge to be calculated based on the final value of the development. The reaction to these proposals is mixed.

Local councils and housing agencies that help people to find housing have been critical of the developer levies. Typical of public private partnerships, the levies produce a trickle of social housing, far below the levels needed to meet the needs of the 1.1 million households that are on the waiting list. However, with the new reforms, the same councils and agencies are concerned that the trickle of social housing will diminish to nothing. See at The Guardian: Affordable housing ‘will diminish due to UK planning changes’

The development industry heralds the reforms as “cutting red tape.” Is this a clue that the concerns expressed by councils and housing agencies about the future of social housing are well founded?

Shelter, a housing agency, has dug into the red tape story. Far from a history of planning permission red tape, it turns out that number of planning permissions is hundreds of thousands of units more than the number of units that have been completed. In addition, the planning permissions are issued promptly, within specified time frames.

As to the claim that social housing deters developers from building, Shelter’s analysis shows the complete opposite: developments with social housing units have much better completion rates than ones that have no levies. Read more on this research at Shelter: Shelter responds to major new planning reforms


  1. For a commentary on permitted developments, where no planning permission is required, try: UK Housing Development Deregulation: A Willful Celebration of Past Ignorance