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In 2019 the UK Government estimated that 300,000 new homes were needed per year to account for the housing need supply. Of which it is thought approximately 145,000 of those new homes should be affordable . 

But with a target for net zero emissions by 2050 and with 40% of the UK's carbon footprint emanating from the built environment, aligning housing expansion with carbon reduction becomes a challenge.  In particular, net zero targets pose significant challenges for the affordability of housing, as the incorporation of green technologies and materials often comes at a higher cost, requiring specialised systems and skills which may not be readily available on the wider market. To add to this, the aftermath of the Covid pandemic still affects the cost and availability of construction materials.

The planning system plays a crucial role in shaping the development of housing projects and securing the reduction in emissions through incoming development, in particular via obligations imposed on developers within section 106 agreements. In 2022/23, 47% of the affordable housing delivered was funded through contributions secured via section 106 agreements and we are already seeing a rise in council's seeking to secure obligations relating to greener developments. For example, requiring developers to ensure their projects can accommodate low-carbon heating systems such as heat pumps or connections to district heat networks.  However, if the target of net zero emissions is to be reached by 2050 local authorities and developers must now balance funding eco-friendly initiatives against the risk of making housing less affordable.

Developers and local authorities now face a delicate balancing act. On one hand, there is a pressing need to fund sustainable initiatives, such as renewable energy installations, to meet net-zero targets. On the other, there is real demand for providing more affordable housing to meet the housing shortages. The viability of housing developments may well be challenged if developers are required to provide policy levels of affordable housing whilst also making greater contributions towards sustainable initiatives and designing their developments to reduce carbon emissions. Developers, grappling with increased costs, might shy away from projects that include affordable units or seek a reduction in on-site affordable housing based on viability evidence. This endangers the delicate equilibrium between sustainable development and housing accessibility.

Striking the balance to ensure both environmental sustainability and the continued availability of affordable housing will be a challenging task, one that demands careful consideration, innovative solutions, and collaboration between policymakers, developers, and local authorities. Developers, in particular those bringing forward housing developments, will likely need to rely more heavily on pre-application discussions with the local authority to better understand what measures they will be expected to incorporate into their development proposals to ensure their developments are both sustainable and able to incorporate a satisfactory level of affordable housing and thus maximise their chances of being granted planning permission.