The Salford Star really is sounding like a broken record when it comes to developers not paying planning fees. However, while the city struggles financially, the Star just has to keep pointing out the massive monetary losses as the concrete jungle expands...
...And that is not getting any easier, as Salford City Council, despite its 'great eight' claim to 'transparency', continues to muddy the real figures that developers should be coughing up for their wall-to-wall profit farms known as apartment blocks.
The latest contender for fee avoidance is Outwood Developments 2 Ltd which is applying for planning permission this week to build 296 flats and townhouses (283 flats and 13 townhouses) in three blocks rising from eight to 23 storeys high on Upper Wharf Street in Ordsall, near Oldfield Road.
Because of Salford Council's own planning policies, the developer doesn't have to pay fees for education or affordable houses to put up any of its apartments. It only has to pay for these things on its houses – twenty per cent of 13 houses, which is three affordable houses and £36,645 in education payments, plus £50,365 for 'open space'.
These figures are not provided in the report; the Star has had to work it out from the Council's own tables...
"The development is likely to result in increased demand for access to public realm and public open space within the vicinity of the site, as a result of the increase in residents" states the Council's planning officer's report "Planning obligations have therefore been sought to mitigate against this impact.
"With regard to education and affordable housing contributions, the level of planning obligations required in this case is applied to the 13 townhouse units only. In accordance with the Planning Obligations SPD, education and affordable housing contributions are not applied to the apartments within the scheme."
As far as the apartments go, according to the Council's own tables, the developer should be paying an estimated £1.367million in planning contributions for transport, public realm and open space.
With this fee plus the education and open space payments for the houses, the total is around £1.454million, as estimated by the Star based on official Council tables...but the developer is being asked for just £864,000 with an added 'clawback' agreement that if profits are sky high, some more money might be forthcoming.
"A review of the applicant's viability appraisal undertaken by the City Council's consultant surveyors concluded that the applicant's assertions that the scheme cannot support the full level of contribution sought is sound" the report adds "On this basis the applicant and the City Council have agreed a contribution of £864,000."
Where has that £864,000 figure come from? It appears to have just been plucked out of the air. No figures or breakdowns are provided for any of the payments...nor where these Section 106 payments might be going; only that they "would be directed towards projects that have been agreed in writing with the Chair of Planning Panel" (Councillor Ray Mashiter).
So, let's get this right about the 'transparent' Salford Council...Three massive blocks of 296 apartments and townhouses, with payment for just three affordable properties (not specified) and education payments (not specified), and reduced planning fee of £864,000 (no breakdown), with these payments going to non-specified projects at the discretion of Councillor Mashiter…
Back in the day, at least Council planning officers used to lay out the exact fees due, so that Salford council tax payers could actually see how much they were being ripped off. Now, as other councils are beginning to bow to public pressure and publish things like 'viability assessments', Salford City Council is going the other way...while having a great big 'transparency' banner on the Civic Centre...
Will any councillors sat on the planning panel this Thursday question any of this? Of course they won't!
Meanwhile, at the same planning meeting this week, Urban Splash will be applying to increase the number of apartments on its Springfield Lane site from one hundred to 150. As such, the Section 106 payments will increase from £100,000 to £150,000, or just £1,000 per apartment, plus a 'clawback' agreement.
See also previous Salford Star article - Salford Council Banner Declares 'Transparency' Despite Everything Being Secret - click here
Update: 8th June: Salford planning panel councillors told not to question Council planning policy - click here