This blog is one in a series of guest blogs written by members of the Housing and Place Delivery Forum, reflecting on Scotland’s revised and soon-to-be-adopted National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4).

Callum Chomczuk (National Director, CIH Scotland) illustrates the challenges that may make meeting the ambitious target of 110,000 affordable homes over 10 years unattainable.

That sound you didn’t hear was Parliament agreeing on the fourth National Planning Framework last month.

A national planning framework should be as lofty as it sounds, setting the strategic framing for our national priorities on energy, infrastructure and housing. It matters.  It sets out a long-term plan for Scotland’s development and infrastructure, but its refresh and renewal has come at the worst possible time for the social housing sector to engage.

There is, we know, an ambitious target for 110,000 affordable homes over ten years. An ambition we all support and an ambition that is intrinsically linked to our planning system. But the reality is that the sector is contending with various challenges that put downward pressure on development plans and limit the day-to-day recognition of a new planning framework.

That is not to say there aren’t challenges in the planning system too. CIH Scotland recognises there are well-evidenced concerns about the ability of NPF4 to benefit the housing sector and our collective ambition for more homes. Concerns about the lack of reference to our housing crisis, concerns about minimum housing targets and how to address the lack of a land pipeline for new housing risk undermining future development.

But for much of the social sector, the vision, direction and rhetoric of NPF4 remain far removed from the day-to-day reality of meeting the needs of our tenants and communities.

The sector warned in 2021 that the new benchmark rates for building social homes would not be enough to meet the 110,000 target – particularly given government signalling for new higher home and energy efficiency standards. However, with inflation reaching highs of 10 per cent and the mini-budget driving up borrowing rates, many social landlords have been forced to (again) reconsider their new build plans.

In addition, the social sector has been reminded, firstly from the work of the housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa and ITN journalist Daniel Hewitt, and then tragically the death of Awaab Ishaak, about the need to focus on existing customers and improve the quality and housing outcomes for these tenants.

And all of this has come at the same time as social landlords were at risk of not being able to increase rents due to the limitation of the Cost of Living Act. While that risk has now been removed, and landlords will have some freedom over rent setting, modelling potential impact has, understandably, taken up the sector’s attention and focus.

The planning system should have housing delivery at its core, but unless and until social landlords are funded to build homes at pace and at the standard demanded by the government while keeping rents affordable, then they will need to be forgiven if they end up focusing their attention towards existing customers and their housing needs.

On 24 April 2023, CaCHE, in association with the Housing and Place Delivery Forum, is hosting a conference entitled Delivering NPF4: What will it take? Register your place here.

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