Over the last few years, the Salford Star has documented in great detail, not only the loss to the city of an estimated £42million in planning fees, but also the loss of over 1,000 affordable homes that should have been provided by developers as a part of their payback to Salford for throwing up huge blocks of unaffordable apartments and houses*.
Planning fees, or `planning obligations', are payments that developers should be making for things like transport, public realm, open space, education and affordable housing. However, by submitting `viability assessments' showing that their profits won't be big enough if they had to stand by these obligations, developers have managed to avoid and evade them – also thanks, in part, to Salford Council's own re-drawing of `value areas' and obligation scales only a few years ago in its updated Supplementary Planning Document, or SPD.
Graphic tables were drawn up showing how much developers stood to lose - after making over 17% profit of course - if they had to make these payments and provide affordable housing. Salford Council planners obliged by carving the city into areas by `value' – low, mid, high and premium – and tearing up any need for developers to provide affordable housing according to these areas' value.
So, there was no requirement for affordable housing in all high density apartment schemes, except for those in `premium' areas. Neither did developers have to provide any at all in low value areas; and only between 10% and 20% for low density housing schemes in mid, high and premium areas.
Even these guidelines were thwarted by many developers, as they submitted `viability assessments' showing that their profits just wouldn't be high enough if they had to abide. Many of the housing schemes and luxury apartments subsequently sold out before they were even built, despite developers crying that they weren't `viable'.
While some planning panel councillors objected to the lack of fees and affordable housing, applications were invariably passed – and the city lost fortunes in cash and over 1,000 affordable houses which Salford desperately needs. It's been the biggest scandal in the city for years (give or take a Hazel Blears or two and some Salford Reds).
Now, Salford Council is finally admitting that something is horribly wrong. A new draft Local Plan for Salford, which is 250 page document that sets out how the city should develop over the next twenty years has been published, which is set to go out to consultation from November 8th**.
Within the Plan is a section on Planning Obligations which represents a u-turn by the Council on its attitude towards developers...
Whereas previously planning fees were only applicable to developers building 25 or more properties, this is to change to eleven or more properties. Proposals also state that all high density apartment blocks should have to provide 10% affordable housing***
"There is clear evidence that the high density apartment market is very successful in Salford" states the Plan, understating what everyone in the city already knows, adding that "it is anticipated that there will increasingly be the potential to deliver affordable housing as part of such schemes".
Meanwhile, housing schemes in high value areas should provide a 40% proportion of affordable properties and 20% in mid density apartment schemes, the Plan states, while in premium areas and those nicked from the green belt (see here) 40% of housing and 25% of mid density apartments should be turned over to affordable housing. In mid to high value areas, it's 25% of housing and 10% of mid density apartments; and low, mid to low and mid value areas it's 10% affordable housing for everything.
The Council states that this is all "in response to changing levels of viability" ie developers taking the piss out of the city and cleaning up with their profits.
The community shouldn't get too excited, however. There are loopholes all over the place, and the Plan merely states "All developments should contribute to the delivery of affordable housing as far as practicable". However it is a start...
...Except that the Local Plan doesn't come into effect until 2019 – by which time there will be no valuable scrap of land left that isn't developed, or has planning permission, particularly around the Manchester border. The profit jockeys will have well bolted by then...
***The term `affordable' housing is misleading these days, covering social rent, the more expensive `affordable rent' and `intermediate' properties, which are basically houses and flats bought via various help schemes. All the `affordable housing' in high density apartments is intermediate.
** For further details on the full draft Salford Local Plan – click here
*For Salford Star articles on related issues see...
Salford Star print issue 10 – The Salford Planning Scandal – for electronic version click here and for an update on the £42million scandal - click here
Salford Council Enshrines Huge Developer Profits into Planning Process – click here
Salford Council Gives City To Developers – click here
See also around fifty articles on specific planning applications – use the Archive button or search engine on the Star front page.
For the dire state of Salford's Affordable Housing - see here