In a written statement to parliament in November, housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis announced that planning policy would be changed to exempt small developments of 10 homes or fewer from affordable housing provision and from planning obligations requiring "tariff style contributions". Communities secretary Eric Pickles said in an accompanying statement that the change was designed to prevent small builders from being "hammered by charges, which have undermined the building industry, cut jobs and forced up the cost of housing".
Lewis's announcement followed a consultation in which the DCLG said developers and development representative bodies had generally expressed their support for the proposed exemption, but local authorities had generally opposed the plans.
In a statement released last week, West Berkshire Council and Reading Council said that they had jointly applied for a judicial review of the decision to introduce the exemption.
"The decision to legally challenge the government on this issue was not taken lightly," said West Berkshire Council's member for planning, Hilary Cole, in the statement. "However, given the fact that the immediate impact of their announcement is the potential loss of critical infrastructure and new affordable housing to the communities around small developments, there was no alternative but to take action."
Tony Page, Reading Borough Council's lead member for strategic environment, planning and transport, said:
"There is an acute and increasing need for affordable homes in Reading, clearly illustrated by the fact that there are around 10,000 people on our waiting list. Reading Borough Council makes absolutely no apology for requiring developers to include a high level of affordable housing when applying for planning permission."
"These changes would amount to pure profit for landowners and developers at the expense of people looking for affordable places to live," said Page. "At a time when policy should be moving towards creating more affordable housing, this is yet another slap in the face for residents."
"Similarly, the removal of the ability of local councils to request a financial contribution from developers for developments of fewer than 10 properties for things like improvements to local roads, schools and playgrounds is going to have a significant effect," said Page. "In Reading we estimate a loss of around £650,000 in local community benefits every year and, again, this money will just be profit for landowners and developers."