S106 agreements are not the problem Mr Clark

I’m still struggling to understand how localism is supposed to work, if central government is going to keep trotting out dictate after dictate about how local government should do things at the local level.  The latest ‘suggestion’ is that we should revisit something called s106 contributions because these are holding up development.

For those not familiar with planning speak, a s106 is a legal agreement between the local authority (council) and the developer of the land.  It can cover a multitude of things, from cash payments to support an existing service, through to the building of affordable housing.  S106 payments have a bit of a bad name with some people, as they can be seen as a form of legalised bribery – give me a planning permission and I’ll give you this in exchange.

However, the overwhelming majority of s106 contributions are made in order to provide something the community would otherwise not have, thereby making what would otherwise be unacceptable in planning terms, acceptable.  A good example of this would be a community centre where one currently does not exist, or even more important to some, a doctor’s surgery, or even a school.

Greg Clark has now called for these agreements to be reviewed, in order to get the development industry building again.  So, what he seems to be telling us is, ignore the local people and their concerns about the lack of the doctor’s surgery, or the currently over subscribed local school.  Ignore the local people who tell that there is a desperate need for a local meeting place in the village, especially if you are going to encourage even more people to come and live here, none of things matter anymore, just as long as things get built.

This seems to be completely against the whole ethos of localism and leaves me bewildered to say the least.  Especially as I don’t believe for one minute that the removal of a s106 agreement from a particular planning permission would see the brickies and chippies back on that abandoned building site tomorrow morning.

The reason that nothing is getting built is because there’s nobody to buy what is built and the reason there’s nobody buying anything is because the bankers are sitting on all the money and won’t lend it to anybody at a sensible rate of interest.

Even if there were an element of truth in what Greg Clark is saying and tearing up the s106 did remove a barrier to development, the loss of the facilities provided by a s106 agreement, such as affordable housing, just seems to greater price to pay in the longer term.  The needs of the community won’t go away, but the ability to meet them will.

Local politicians to be stitched up

The government looks set fair to ensure that local politicians of all persuasions carry the can for the housing shortage in this country.  Having removed the regionally imposed housing number requires, to a great hurrah from the Party faithful in the more affluent areas of the country, ministers are now saying that it is up to councils to convince the locals that development is good for them.  See the quote from one of Greg Clark’s bag carriers below. 

Developers will be allowed to build “what they like, where they like” if councils fail to give permission for sufficient new housing schemes, a Conservative MP has said.  John Howell, parliamentary private secretary to minister for decentralisation Greg Clark, warned that if councils failed to plan for new development, it would be assumed that they had a “completely permissive planning system”.  As a result, he said a developer could build “what they like, where they like and when they like”, as long as they meet new national planning standards that are being worked on alongside the Localism Bill.

He stressed that the government’s new planning system aimed to lead to more development, not less development.

The new government obviously learnt at least one lesson during their time in opposition.  Simply setting housing numbers doesn’t mean houses get built.  Also, because these housing numbers were set regionally, it made it appear to be the government’s fault.  they weren’t going to have that.  Afterall, there were plenty of other things they were in line to be blamed for that they wouldn’t be able to pass the buck for, without taking the blame for this as well!

Enter Baldrick (or should we call him Pickles in order to bring it up to date) with a cunning plan.  Why not scrap the government imposed figures, whilst at the same time cutting the local government grant, top slicing what’s left and then only giving them that bit back if they build more houses – Brilliant!   Not only does this get the housing deficit off of our backs, it also well and truly sticks it to local government, that I never liked anyway – Double brilliant!!