For over ten years the Salford Star has documented how developers have avoided paying full contributions and providing affordable housing in the city, through exploiting huge loopholes in the planning system.
At the last count, around £50million had been lost to Salford, as well as thousands of affordable houses.* Salford Star research was backed up last week by Sheffield University's Jonathon Silver, who investigated just 26 sites in Salford and concluded that over £18million and two thousand affordable houses had been lost (see here).
The Salford Star has shown that causes of this have been both the Government's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Salford City Council's own developer-friendly policies.
The NPPF allows developers to include huge profits in costs (up to 20%) as part of any 'viability assessment' which assesses whether developments are economically 'viable' if planning fees are paid – and, unsurprisingly, almost all are found not to be 'viable' if full planning contributions, or Section 106 monies, are having to be coughed up. The same get-out is used to avoid providing affordable housing.
Meanwhile, a few years ago, Salford Council itself changed its Supplementary Planning Document, or SPD, so that developers in certain areas of Salford didn't have to provide any affordable housing or pay full fees, particularly those building high density apartments near the 'regional centre'.
Despite warnings from housing charities, activists, even from within the Tory Party itself (see here), the planning process has been one of the main factors firing the current affordable housing crisis. Both Salford Council and the Conservative/ ConDem Government can be blamed.
So it was very strange yesterday when Tory grandees suddenly rounded on developers, although it would be mad not to welcome the sentiments. First up was Prime Minister Theresa May who said that "by ending abuse of the 'viability assessment' process, we're going to make it much harder for unscrupulous developers to dodge their obligation to build homes local people can afford."
And next came Housing Secretary, Sajid Javid, who promised - to the strains of violins and how there were fifteen of his family living in a shoe box - that "changes will stop developers using the legal loophole of 'viability assessments' to 'wriggle out' of building the affordable homes..."
He added that he was reforming the controversial NPPF, including "a new approach to developer contributions"; one option of which "could be for developer contributions to be set nationally and made non-negotiable".
Depending on what percentages are set, the Salford Star would certainly applaud this initiative as it would take the decision away from Salford Council officers, who have refused to shed light on their dealings with developers, and hand-wringing impotent local councillors.
Javid also promised "greater transparency" and "increased accountability" in the process, both over how these planning contributions are negotiated and where they are eventually spent. As part of this, Javid said that he was "expecting all viability assessments to be publicly available subject to some very limited circumstances"...
Salford City Council has consistently refused to reveal viability assessments, even under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). Last December, the Council responded to a Salford Star request for the viability assessment for the Brown Cow pub site in Worsley, with almost all of the information blanked out, or redacted (see main photo).
The Star asked for an internal inquiry into the response and, two weeks ago, the Council replied that it stood by its original decision... "The developer and other parties have also been fully consulted and they also object strenuously to the release of any of their commercial and confidential information" it added.
The Government has now launched a consultation into its 'transparency' in planning plans which anyone can respond to. For more details click here.
Meanwhile, the response to other housing initiatives put forward by the Government yesterday veered from Jeremy Corbyn's "feeble" to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) condemning a 'failure' to deal with the housing crisis...
"High housing costs are trapping people in poverty, but every year we're falling short of building the low-cost rented homes we need to meet demand" said Campbell Robb, chief executive of JRF "It is not right that so many families are struggling to make ends meet.
"Yet the speech overlooked entirely the role central government must play in redesigning the housing market and building the affordable homes we need – private developers and local authorities cannot do this alone" he added "A failure to do so will mean that many families on low incomes will miss out on the opportunity to build a decent and secure life. The forthcoming social housing Green Paper is an opportunity: we urge the Government to commit to building 78,000 affordable homes a year."
*For more background into the Salford planning scandal see related Salford Star articles...
Salford Housing Crisis – The Causes – click here
£42million Planning Scandal Mushrooms as Salford Mayor Asks What's Going On – click here
Only Two Affordable Properties For Over 4,000 Flats and Houses Built in Greengate and Chapel Street - click here
Salford In UK Top 10 Greedy Property Speculator Hotspots - click here
9 Year Waiting List For One Bed Affordable Flat in Salford - click here
Salford Star print issue 10 has a huge article detailing the background and ruses behind the planning scandal – click here for electronic version
Also, put the words 'viability assessment' into the site search engine at the top of the front page of our website for individual developments