Sorry madam, do you really mean him?

The writer of a letter in today’s Spalding Guardian, in which I am mentioned, must have experienced a case of mistaken identity. Either that, or somebody, who looks like me, is going around calling himself Graham Dark – that’s a scarcely thought on so many levels!

The lady writer is a jewellery shop owner in Spalding town centre and is referring to a newspaper report on the recent meeting of the Spalding Town Forum. At the meeting, a debate took place on the use of the section 106 money paid by the Springfields developer, to help reduce the development’s impact on Spalding town centre.

At that meeting, I made a passing comment that, if built, a bandstand could be there for a hundred years. I didn’t suggest that a town centre manager wouldn’t be a good idea, but I was concerned that, when the s106 money ran out after 4 or 5 years, and the position hadn’t become self-financing, that would be a negative outcome for all of us.

According to this lady, I should speak to one Graham Dark, as he has some really good ideas, none of which it seems, incredibly, include building a bandstand in Aycoughfee Gardens!

Her suggestion that Graham Dark has offered some good suggestions on how to spend this money, flies in face of the facts. The truth of the matter is, that Graham has been banging on about a bandstand in Ayscoughfee Gardens for several years now. Indeed, if memory serves, he has never really suggested any other use for the s106 money that is now up for grabs.

I’m not sure how this lady has ended up getting her facts so wrong, but I will be writing to the newspaper to put the record straight. After all, I get enough stick for things I have said and done, without getting blamed for things I haven’t!

Affordable housing con

In their housing bill, the government has suggested that developers should be able to renegotiate section 106 agreements for affordable housing contributions, in order to enable them to deliver currently stalled developments. At the same time, the government has found yet more money, in those treasury coffers that are supposedly bereft of funds, to provide £400m for guess what? – affordable housing!

Setting the stage for developers to wriggle out of providing an element of affordable housing within their developments, suggests a return to the council estates we have been working to get away from since Margaret Thatcher introduced right to buy.

The cynic in me sees more than a little collusion, or even out right conspiracy in these proposals. Developers have never liked devaluing their open market housing developments with affordable housing, even when they could afford it. Even then, they tried their best to bunch them all together in the back of the site – almost out of site out of mind (that’s a pun by the way, not a typo)

Now, with the government promoting the renegotiation of s106 agreements for this provision, whilst at the same time providing money for its delivery, it would seem that the developers are going to get their wish and we are going to see the potential emergence of a new clutch of sink estates.

Instead of giving developers a way of undermining local authorities ability to deliver affordable housing using their own policies, why doesn’t the government give councils the £400m? Councils could then use this money to subsidise developers and require them to maintain a mix of tenure within their developments. But of course the developers wouldn’t like that idea, so it’s never going to happen.

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.