Richmond Self Builders at Risk Again of Losing £100k or More

Monday, September 28, 2015

A reversal of planning policy has put Richmond self builders once again at risk of being billed tens of thousands of pounds in Affordable Housing Contributions.

Last November, small scale developments of ten units or less with a combined floor space of no more than 1000sqm were granted exemption from AHCs – easily covering self builders. However, earlier this year, West Berkshire successfully challenged this change, which was reversed by the High Court.

So we’re back to where we started: any new build in Richmond that requires the demolition of an existing house or converts multiple units into one will be subject to an AHC. The amount is determined by a commuted sum calculation, which uses the value of the completed development to determine the final fee – which often exceeds £100k.

Self builders receive the bill after their planning application has been approved but final approval won’t be granted until the AHC has been paid. This can slow down the start of the project for months while the self builder tries to gather the funds or find (and pay) the quantity surveyors and agents who can draft a viability assessment to appeal the AHC.

AHCs can come as a surprise to independent self builders or architects unfamiliar with building in Richmond. A surprise extra £100k on top of a budget that’s already been squeezed down to the decimal can be enough to stop a project in its tracks.

Since AHCs were introduced, we’ve saved our Richmond clients hundreds of thousands of pounds. Last year, we reduced two AHCs of over £100k down to only £30k, and another AHC of £170k down to the tidy sum of £0.

We manage this through a mix of good rapport and trust with the local authority and intimate knowledge of the planning process and viability reports. AHCs are never a surprise to us, we’re prepared from day one to plan around them or reduce their impact through successful appeals.

You may wonder why we’re only mentioning Richmond when this is a national policy change. In our experience, Richmond is the only borough with a local plan that applies AHC to self build developments that do not involve an increase in the number of residential units.

That doesn’t mean you’re safe in other boroughs, we just haven’t dealt with them yet. Check with your local planning authority what their AHC policy is and feel free to get in touch with us if you think you’ll need help appealing against an obscenely high figure.

I’ve written many times on the topic of AHCs, as well as Community Infrastructure Levies, and my opinion on them stands: these are levies originally intended for large scale developers whose projects significantly alter the landscape and are profitable enough to be able to afford the contributions. It’s unfair to impose the same standards on those who are building single homes for personal use.

The government’s flip-flopping on how AHCs are applied shows that they’re a contentious issue and I expect this is far from the last policy change I’ll be writing about. What I can guarantee is that no matter what changes, Dyer Grimes Architecture will always stay one step ahead to help our clients build their dream homes.

By Oliver Brown