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Pickles announces revised guidance on how to apply vacant building credit

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has announced changes to the guidance on vacant building credit (VBC), which was initially introduced in November 2014. 16 Apr 2015

The changes confirm that the intention of the VBC is to act as an incentive for brownfield development on sites containing vacant buildings; confirm that the VBC can operate with respect to either the number of affordable housing units or the amount of a financial contribution towards affordable housing; and provide guidance and give discretion to Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) as to how the VBC may apply.

This last change means that  LPAs can have regard to whether the building was made vacant for the sole purpose of redevelopment and whether the building is already covered by an existing or recently expired planning permission for a development similar to that now proposed.

The updated planning practice guidance also sets out the procedure for determining the VBC where there is an overall increase in floorspace in the proposed development by calculating the amount of the affordable housing contribution, either as a financial contribution or provision of units, in accordance with the Local Plan, and deducting the VBC based on the gross floorspace of vacant buildings on the site that has not been abandoned and or to be brought back into use or demolished as part of the development.

When the guidance was originally published, many local authorities opposed the principle of the credit on the basis that it would significantly reduce the level of affordable housing contributions.

The Leaders of Lambeth, Camden, Islington, Southwark, Wandsworth, RBKC, the City of London Corporation and Westminster wrote to Pickles on 25 March raising their concerns in relation to the effect of the VBC. Some local authorities are also looking to introduce local planning policy to mitigate the impact or establish a local VBC exemption.

Planning expert George Wilson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "These changes go some way to alleviating concerns local authorities had when the vacant building credit was first introduced by the government, but not entirely. The amendments provide some flexibility and discretion for the local authorities in the way in which they apply the VBC and in considering whether the VBC would be applied, to encourage genuinely vacant, brownfield sites into use, as is the intention for which the credit was introduced."

"Although the changes have largely been welcomed, we would not be surprised to see further authorities try and introduce blanket exemptions for the credit in their areas and further 'clarifications' to the guidance issued," said Wilson.