At the last meeting of Salford Council's planning panel, as Pinnacle Developments (NW) Ltd was let off with £1.9million costs that were due to be paid for the construction of two enormous apartment blocks in Greengate, even planning councillor Stephen Ord called the system "immoral" and "a joke"; while the Council's Assistant Mayor for Planning Derek Antrobus called it "absurd" (see here).
Next week will see more absurdity, with another three `joke' recommendations for planning permission bringing almost nothing back to the city, yet taking loads out.
The Grade II listed old Salford Town Hall is to be converted into 122 apartments by Liverpool's X1 Developments. Such a plan would normally be subject to all sorts of payments for infrastructure, construction training, open space, climate change and more, of around £300,000. X1 has agreed to make a contribution of just £50,000 which the planning report states "could possibly be used to provide gas lamps to the public realm in the local area and to reinstate the roll of honour that was removed from the building some time ago".
Meanwhile, only six apartments out of the 121 proposed at the old Town Hall are larger than poky one bedroom flats, and "only the very largest of the two bedroom apartments meet the size required by Housing Planning Guidance" – but yet again the Council, "with reluctance", has made "an exception". What's going on?
Over in Ordsall, another planning application will be heard by the planning panel next week. This one is for two six storey apartment blocks totalling 126 flats to be built by Elan Homes Ltd on land at the back of Ordsall Fit City as part of the Saltra development.
Again, a development of this sort would be subject to somewhere around £300,000 in payments to the Council plus a percentage of affordable housing to be provided. In yer dreams! This development will be paying nothing at all to the Council. What's going on?
Both planning applications are subject to the ConDem Government's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), brought in by Eric Pickles in 2012 to supposedly `make the planning system less complex and more accessible'. In effect it has created a developers' free-for-all.
As Council planning officers state, "The NPPF points out at paragraph 173 that development should not be subject to such a scale of obligations that the ability to develop the site is threatened and that landowners must be allowed to make competitive returns on their investment."…
…So all the developers are putting in `viability assessments' that show that, if they had to pay up what was owed, it would `threaten' the development. So, for the Bexley Square, "The expert assessment of the appraisal is that there is insufficient profit in the development to warrant the requirement of an obligation to be entered into"…
And it's the same argument with the one bedroom Bexley Square rabbit hutches that break Housing Planning Guidance… "The developer has submitted a viability statement and has stated that the costs of renovating and converting an old listed building require a level of return that can only be generated by the provision of a high proportion of one bedroom dwellings" states the planning report in incredibly long sentences "With reluctance it is considered that the applicant makes a valid argument with regard to the size of the apartments and that requiring a greater proportion of two bedroom properties would risk the viability of the development and therefore the successful reuse of this important listed building. The viability report has been assessed and accepted."
Over in Ordsall it's the same cut and pasted story, using the same NPPF paragraph 173… "The expert assessment of the appraisal is that there is insufficient profit in the development to warrant the requirement of an obligation to be entered into" states the planning report.
So, for allowing the building of 248 apartments at Bexley Square and Ordsall, the Council will rake in the grand total of £50,000 – plus an agreement for a "future viability assessment" which could claw some money back if "profit level has exceeded a certain level". We won't hold our breath waiting for that one!
Meanwhile, over in Worsley, Peel Holdings is using its favourite NPPF policy to build on some more greenfield land, via its Peel Investments (North) vehicle.
Peel is proposing to build 15 large houses on land off Cranleigh Drive that's currently classed as Local Natural Green Space, with a Public Right of Way and a Wildlife Corridor running through it. However using different paragraphs of the NPPF as well as a few mitigating measures, planning officers are recommending approval of the plans.
Last time Peel tried to put forward similar plans in Broadoak, and in the face of huge community opposition, councillors rejected the scheme (see here). Will they resist this time?
Indeed, questions need to be seriously asked as to why developers are being allowed to run financial and ecological riot all over Salford, giving very little back in return.
Do Salford planning councillors ever get to see the `viability assessments' that seem to show all developers to be paupers when they build hundreds of apartments? These assessments are certainly not in the public domain, so no-one can check them.
The national NPPF policy has been called `immoral' by those councillors – but these viability assessments have been allowing developers a loophole to get out of payments and the provision of affordable housing way before the ConDem Government introduced the NPPF.
So definitely blame the ConDem Government; certainly blame Salford Council for being the conduit to a developer's bricked dreams; and absolutely question why planning officers are rolling over and recommending these schemes for acceptance.
The Salford Star asked months ago to interview senior Salford Council planning officers. The request wasn't even acknowledged.
* See also previous Salford Star article on X1 at Bexley Square - click here