Portsmouth City Council this week passed a motion, supported by all parties, to try and stop greedy developers avoiding Section 106 payments for things like roads and parks, and affordable housing.
In Salford, planning councillors have complained weakly in the past about developers avoiding payments but have done absolutely nothing. The Salford Star has shown that over £42million worth of these payments plus the provision of over one thousand affordable properties have been avoided through 'viability assessments'.*
'Viability Assessments' are basically documents that show how developers' profits won't be big enough if the full contributions were made. And there's now a whole industry of planning consultants, including Gary Neville's Zerum company**, which specialise in producing these assessments.
"We want to stop developers that are out to deceive people" said Portsmouth Councillor Steve Pitt after the Council passed its no-nonsense motion.
It compels developers to be transparent and will "Require any planning application which does not meet the affordable housing requirement...to submit an Economic Viability Assessment which must be fully public and will be published online alongside the other planning application materials."
Meanwhile, as an incentive, the Council is considering "offering a 'fast-track' planning service to applications which deliver 30%, or more, affordable housing".
The Portsmouth motion states: "This council recognises the need to provide quality homes which are affordable to those on low and middle incomes in Portsmouth, and for transparency in regard to planning applications to ensure that the council's own policies, on affordable housing requirements, as laid out in the Portsmouth Plan, are met.
"It has become clear that there are companies who are openly boasting in their promotion, that they can help developers to avoid paying Section 106 monies and making appropriate levels of affordable housing provision" it adds "These companies produce what are known as Economic Viability Assessments or EVAs, in order to demonstrate that developers are not making sufficient profits to enable councils to insist on full 106 or affordable housing contributions.
"This issue has caused concern among councillors across the political spectrum in the city, along with notable contributions from both members of the public and party activists of different hues" it explains "Whilst some of these EVAs are no doubt submitted in good faith, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the reports are often prepared in such a way as to attempt to confuse local planning committees and present a misleading picture.
"Indeed, some councils, especially in London, are now insisting that EVAs are no longer able to be submitted unless they are able to be viewed by members of the public and in open session at planning committee meetings" the motion concludes.
Salford City Council still refuses to make the viability assessments public, even after Freedom of Information requests, citing 'commercial confidentiality'. If Portsmouth Council and those in London can do it, this argument no longer holds.
The Salford Star will now be banging in Freedom of Information requests on every single application where 'viability assessments' have been used to evade or avoid planning fees.
The latest application to use a viability assessment was for the site of the Brown Cow pub in Worsley, where the Star estimated over £400,000 was avoided, including provision of affordable houses (see here)
Sign the Salford Star petition calling for more transparency in planning applications – click here
*See previous Salford Star article - £42million Planning Scandal – click here
**Gary Neville is a director of Zerum Construction Management Ltd, which has helped planning fee avoiders like Middlewood Locks (£6million avoided), Peel Holdings (£millions avoided) and Pegasus M6/Vermont Construction on Frederick Road (£400,000 avoided) – see previous article click here.
See also previous related Salford Star articles...
Salford Becomes 2nd Home Capital of England – click here
Only Two Affordable Properties Out Of 4,172 Built In Greengate and Chapel Street – click here
Salford Council Gives Ordsall Away For Nothing – click here
Fred Done Publicly Subsidised Flats Marketed To Foreign Investors - click here