"How can the transparency of the financial viability appraisal process for individual planning applications be maximised in order to maintain public confidence in the system?" Salford Council
Ever since Salford Council's horribly named Planning Obligations Supplementary Planning Document, or SPD, was introduced in 2015, developers have been laughing all the way to the bank.
While the Government's equally horribly named National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), allowed developers to avoid paying planning fees if their profits weren't big enough, Salford Council's own SPD ripped up any obligations for developers to pay fees or provide affordable housing in certain schemes and in certain areas of the city.
The Salford Star went into huge detail about this in print issue 10*, showing how over £19million and almost one thousand affordable houses had been lost by developers exploiting both the NPPF and the SPD. That figure has since grown to around £50million and over two thousand affordable houses.**
According to Salford Council's SPD, if a developer wanted to build high density apartments (above six storeys) in a 'Low/Low to Mid/Mid or High' value area (covering the whole of Salford, bar the Quays, Worsley and the Greengate area right next to Manchester City Centre), they didn't have to provide any affordable housing at all.
And, via Salford Council's SPD, nor did they have to pay any planning fees, or 'obligations' in 'Low/Low to Mid or Mid' value areas if they were putting up any kind of apartments. All the new apartment blocks in Ordsall and Blackfriars, for instance, are in what was classified as 'Mid or Low Mid' areas.***
Meanwhile, even in areas where the Council could get some kind of Section 106 money or affordable houses, the NPPF provided a handy get-out for developers via 'viability assessments'.
It was, and is, a huge scandal that has filled the Salford Star pages for years, met by a bit of hang wringing from councillors sat on the planning panel, and the Mayor pointing the finger at Government, rather than at the Council's own pathetic policies.
Meanwhile, in the background, the scandal has also grown on a national level which culminated last week with the Prime Minister Theresa May finally promising to end "abuse of the 'viability assessment' process" (see previous Salford Star article Ė click here).
Within three days of that announcement (and the Salford Star article heralding it), Salford Council suddenly, and very quietly, announced a 'consultation' on a 'review' of its shameful SPD policy, hidden away on its website...
"There have been significant changes to development economics and some of
the housing markets within Salford since the current SPD was adopted, and so the review will need to assess factors such as land values, house prices and the cost of building new homes" a letter to interested parties states (click here)
"There has also been increasing public interest in the processes around planning obligations" it understated "particularly the viability appraisal process through which developers may seek lower contributions than would normally be required by the SPD policies."
The letter asks for comments 'which will assist us in informing the review of the SPD'...
1) Which aspects of the current SPD should be retained or amended?
2) Are there any problems with the implementation of the current SPD?
3) Are the current priorities in the SPD appropriate; that is, affordable housing, open space, primary school places, transport, and public realm?
The fourth question asks "How can the transparency of the financial viability appraisal process for individual planning applications be maximised in order to maintain public confidence in the system?"
...This when the Council has been systematically blocking publication of 'viability assessments', even when requested to reveal them under the Freedom of Information Act (see here).
Back in 2015, even developer Barrett Homes stated during the previous SPD consultation: "We note the Council has supported residential developments based upon viability to support a reduced contribution, and this can be met with local political and community unease".
As the Star has pointed out many times, by the time Salford Council gets around to 'reviewing' and possibly changing its scandalous SPD policy there won't be a scrap of land left in central Salford that hasn't already got planning permission under its old developer-friendly regime. Bolting horses and stable doors still come to mind Ė with, as usual, no-one at Salford Council being held to account.
Something for Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, to mull this week while he's in the South of France at the property orgy MIPIM...
*See electronic version of Salford Star print issue 10 Ė click here
See related previous Salford Star articles...
**Salford Mayor Asks 'What Is Going On' as £42million Planning Avoidance Hits - click here
***No Affordable Housing In Ordsall Ė click here and click here
For more, put the words 'viability assessment' into the Salford Star search engine at the top of the front page