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Last edited 20 Feb 2024
 Definition in the National Planning Policy Framework 2023
Affordable housing is defined in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as 'housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market (including housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers); and which complies with one or more of the following definitions (Affordable Homes Update Written Ministerial Statement published on 24 May 2021)
In particular section b) Starter home is "as specified in Sections 2 and 3 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and any secondary legislation made under these sections. The definition of a starter home should reflect the meaning set out in statute and any such secondary legislation at the time of plan-preparation or decision-making. Where secondary legislation has the effect of limiting a household’s eligibility to purchase a starter home to those with a particular maximum level of household income, those restrictions should be used.
The National Planning Policy Framework was revised in response to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill: reforms to national planning policy consultation on 19 December 2023 and sets out the government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. This revised Framework replaces the previous National Planning Policy Framework published in March 2012, revised in July 2018, updated in February 2019, revised in July 2021 and updated in September 2023, for further details follow this link National Planning Policy Framework updated 2023.
 Background to starter homes
At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that if the Conservatives won the next election, they would ensure 100,000 new homes were built on brownfield land and made available to first-time buyers in England under the age of 40 at a 20 per cent discount.
Cameron said, "I want young people who work hard, who do the right thing, to be able to buy a home of their own. So these starter homes will be sold at 20% less than the market value…. They can't be bought by foreigners, they can't be bought by buy-to-let landlords and they can't be flipped round in a quick sale. They can only be bought by hard working people under the age of 40.”
Starter homes would be built on brownfield public and commercial sites no longer needed for industrial or commercial use. Cameron suggested that this land, which is not normally available for housing, is cheaper than other housing development sites, and it is these savings that would be passed on to purchasers. It was also suggested that these homes would be exempt from the community infrastructure levy and section 106 obligations to build social housing.
In addition, and quite controversially, aspects of the building regulations, such as the zero carbon homes standard (this standard has since been abandoned) would not apply. Purchasers would be eligible for the help to buy mortgage scheme, offering a 20% loan but requiring a 5% deposit. The homes could then not be re-sold at market value for a five years.
On 15 December 2014, Cameron announced further details of the ‘Starter Home Initiative’, Ref Gov.uk, 20% discount on your first home announces PM and launched an 8-week consultation process.
Central to the proposals were changes to the planning system to make brownfield land free from planning costs in return for a below market value sale price. The government suggests that builders face an average bill of £15,000 per home in Section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy charges. The announcement said that there was widespread support for the initiative and that a number house builders would consider bringing forward land to develop the new, discounted houses, from the following year.
Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation said: “Bringing forward more land for house building, while also enabling more first time buyers to realise their ambition of home ownership would be another positive step on the way to tackling the housing shortage.”
In a speech on 2 March 2015, Cameron pledged that if the Conservative party won the next election, it would double it's commitment, providing 200,000 starter homes. Ref BBC Cameron promises 200,000 starter homes if Tories win election.
To ensure the new homes are high quality, a design panel was established including architects Sir Terry Farrell and Sir Quinlan Terry, philosopher Roger Scruton and representatives from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the Design Council and Create Streets.
Sir Terry Farrell said: “This panel has the potential to make a real difference. It builds on the recommendations of the Farrell Review, which highlighted the need for more proactive planning and better placemaking as we attempt to address the housing crisis, with radically higher priority given to landscape, sustainability and the public realm…. Only by planning and designing our villages, towns and cities together with local communities can we create the kind of built environment we all aspire to and should be demanding.”
On 10 August 2015, the government announced £26 million one-off funding to identify and purchase underused brownfield sites for starter homes and made available up to £10 million for local authorities to prepare more brownfield land for development of starter homes. Ref Gov.uk.
On 20 August 2015, the government published its Rural Productivity Plan, which included a measure to allow starter homes to be built on Rural Exception Sites. These are small sites that would not normally be used for housing, but can be used for affordable housing in perpetuity. They suggested that this would allow local areas to allocate more sites for starter homes specifically for people who already live in the area, or have an existing family or employment connection to the area. Ref gov.uk.
In his speech to the Conservative party conference in October 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“For years, politicians have been talking about building what they call “affordable homes” – but the phrase was deceptive. It basically meant homes that were only available to rent. What people want are homes they can actually own. …Those old rules which said to developers: you can build on this site, but only if you build affordable homes for rent…we’re replacing them with new rules…you can build here, and those affordable homes can be available to buy.”
On 8 December 2015, The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) announced 27 sites that had secured grants totalling £7.2m. Ref Gov.uk Starter Homes Local Authority Funding Programme: successful bidders.
On 4 January 2016, the Prime Minister announced that the government would directly commission thousands of new affordable homes on publicly-owned land. See Government to commission affordable homes on publicly owned land for more information.
In a report published in February 2016, Savills suggested that starter homes were distorting the market, finding, '... land allocated to starter homes may return a lower value than sites allocated for shared ownership. This potentially opens up wider questions around how promotion and development of large sites are funded.' ref Savills, The impact of new housing measures on development, February 2016.
The initiative came under strong criticism during a Lord's debate about the Starter Homes Bill on 1 March 2016, when it was suggested starter homes would be unaffordable to most people. Baroness Hollis of Heigham said “For the whole of the next decade, if the government have their way, the affordable housing programme for those in the greatest need, who have least leverage in the market, whose need is highest, will have just one option, starter homes—which, we are told by Savills, will not benefit 90 per cent of them. What on earth do the government think they are doing?”
Meanwhile, a study undertaken by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) in February 2016 found that 93% of councils did not think that starter homes would address affordable housing need and almost 80% did not think starter homes should be classified as affordable housing.
In April 2016, the House of Lords voted through an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, rejecting the 20% standard and instead giving local authorities discretion about how many starter homes should be required in new residential developments. They also changed the discount taper from 8 years to 20.
In September 2016, new housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell gave a speech at the RESI Conference during which he suggested the definition of starter homes could be widened to include rented homes.
In January 2017, the Government gave the go-ahead to 30 local authorities to start building the first wave of starter homes. The council partnerships, selected for their ability to start proceedings quickly, will have access to the £1.2 billion Starter Homes Land Fund. Supported by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), construction will begin later in 2017.
- Blackburn with Darwen Council
- Blackpool Council
- Bristol City Council
- Central Bedfordshire Council
- Cheshire West and Chester Council
- Chesterfield Borough Council
- Chichester District Council
- City of Lincoln
- Ebbsfleet Development Corporation
- Fareham Borough Council
- Gloucester City Council
- Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan)
- Lincolnshire County Council
- Liverpool City Council (in association with Sefton, Knowsley, Halton, Wirral, St Helens)
- Luton Borough Council
- Mid Sussex District Council
- Middlesbrough Council
- North Somerset Council
- Northumberland County Council
- Pendle Borough Council
- Plymouth City Council
- Rotherham Metropolitan Council
- Rushmoor Borough Council.
- Sheffield City Council
- South Kestevan District Council
- South Ribble Borough Council (in association with Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council)
- South Somerset District Council
- Stoke-on-Trent City Council
- West Somerset Council (in association with Taunton Deane Borough Council, Sedgemoor District Council)
- Worthing Council
Housing Minister Gavin Barwell said; “This first wave of partnerships shows the strong local interest to build thousands of Starter Homes on hundreds of brownfield sites in the coming years. One in three councils has expressed an interest to work with us so far.”
However, on 7 February 2017, the government published a housing white paper, Fixing our broken housing market, which abandoned the manifesto pledge to build 200,000 Starter Homes by 2020. Instead, it proposed that the new homes would be delivered through a combination of existing programmes such as shared ownership, Help to Buy and Right to Buy. It also dropped plans to require developers to make 20% of all new sites Starter Homes in lieu of other affordable housing. Instead, only 10% of all sites will be required to be affordable homes, with the percentage of Starter Homes set by the local council.
In November 2019, the National Audit Office reported that £250m had been spent on land, but no starter homes had actually been built, and the secondary legislation needed to define starter homes had not been passed.
Chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee, Meg Hillier MP, said: “Despite setting aside over £2bn to build 60,000 new starter homes, none were built. Since 2010 many housing programmes announced with much fanfare have fallen away with money then recycled into the next announcement. The department needs to focus on delivery and not raise, and then dash, people’s expectations.”
- Affordable housing.
- Brownfield land.
- Community Infrastructure Levy.
- Conservative party conference affordable housing.
- Consumer Code for Home Builders.
- Consumer Code for New Homes (CCNH).
- Farrell Review.
- Fixing our broken housing market.
- Government to commission affordable homes on publicly owned land.
- Section 106 agreements.
- Rural exception sites.
- Rural productivity plan.
- Scotland reaches homebuilding milestone in 2021.
- Section 106 exemption.
- Starter homes design.
 External references
- Savills, The impact of new housing measures on development, February 2016.
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