In May 2021 the Government published a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) which launched its First Homes scheme in England to help more households into home ownership.  This WMS makes substantial changes to planning policy to enable the delivery of First Homes and it has now been in effect for a week (from 28th June 2021).

A new model for Shared Ownership has also been introduced as national policy which sits alongside the National Planning Policy Framework 2019 (the Framework) and, additionally, the Government has published new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on First Homes as well as updating its guidance on the housing needs of different groups with specific reference to rural exception sites.  The guidance now notes that rural exception sites can be used to deliver any form of affordable housing, including First Homes, provided it is supported by evidence of local need, such as a local housing needs survey.

A WMS is a statement of Government policy and should be treated as such and read alongside the Framework – it is therefore a material consideration for applications, appeals etc. going forward.

First Homes are a specific kind of discounted market sale housing and it is most likely that they will comprise of flats and houses built across England and be secured through section 106 obligations. The WMS states that “a home meeting the criteria of a First Home will also meet the definition of ‘affordable housing’ for planning purposes”.  The PPG further explains them as discounted market sale units and there is flexibility as to discounts where there is evidenced need.

There are transitional arrangements in place within the WMS despite it coming into effect last week.  The transitional arrangements include planning applications, local plans and neighbourhood plans that have reached an advanced stage of preparation.  The WMS indicates that a policy compliant application should capture the same amount of value as the existing development plan policy including 25% of affordable housing on-site as First Homes.  Further detail is also included as to how the remaining 75% of affordable housing should be secured.

Within regard to plans, local/neighbourhood plans that have been submitted for examination before 21st June 2021 are not required to reflect First Homes policy requirements.  Local plans and neighbourhood plans that have reached publication stage (Regulation 19) by 28th June 2021 will also not be required to reflect the First Homes policy requirement if they are submitted for Examination before 28th December 2021. Transitional arrangements only apply when the plan in question contains policies that deal with the issue of affordable housing.

In terms of planning applications the PPG specifically identifies three circumstances where the First Homes requirement does not apply (paragraph 20), however, if an applicant wishes to make amendments to include First Homes then the LPA should take a flexible approach and can accept First Homes in place on another tenure type.  The WMS also confirms that where the transitional arrangements do not apply then local planning authorities should make clear it how existing policies should be interpreted using the most appropriate method available which could include interim policy statements.

So, in short – those with housing applications, appeals and sites within emerging Local Plans would be well advised to check the implications of the above as well as the transitional arrangements available to them.