Star date: 30th January 2015


After the Salford Star had publicised the disgrace of developers getting away with paying £millions in planning obligations for putting up huge blocks of flats, even Salford Council's Assistant Mayor for Planning called the practice a "public scandal of immense proportions".

Planners are getting away with it by submitting `viability assessments' showing their profits won't be big enough if they had to pay such fees. The Salford Star asked to see one of these `viability assessments' under the Freedom of Information Act – but Salford Council has refused, stating it's `in the public interest' for them to remain secret. You what?

Full details here...

`Having carefully considered that balance of public interest in this case, the Council has concluded that the public interest in maintaining the exceptions outweighs the public interest in disclosure...'

It might have only just been exposed at a Salford Council meeting recently but for years developers building thousands of flats have been avoiding paying large sums in planning obligations – or Section 106 payments – because of `viability' issues ie their profits won't be large enough.

The practice, documented by the Salford Star over the last eight years, came under a wider spotlight after Assistant Mayor for Planning, Derek Antrobus, finally slated the "public scandal of immense proportions" at a Salford Council meeting last week, following more Salford Star exposes about a £4.4million loss to the city (plus affordable housing) from just two blocks of apartments being proposed at Clippers Quay (Amstone Ventures) and Chapel Wharf (Acroy/Dandara) - see here and see here and see here for previous articles.

Back in November, the Salford Star put in a Freedom of Information request to Salford City Council asking to see the `viability assessment' submitted by City Suites Ltd, which avoided a whopping £476,781 in payments for a 17 storey block in Greengate comprising 260 `turn key' apartments, complete with gym, swimming pool and a rooftop lounge - "aimed at young professionals, executives and business people" (see previous Salford Star article – click here).

City Suites should have been paying £826,781 in planning obligation fees but, after submitting a `viability assessment' - which Council officers agreed showed the company wouldn't get a `reasonable developer return' – it was asked to cough up a mere £350,000 towards `public realm'.

What was surprising about this particular planning application and subsequent Section 106 reductions was that the officers' report itself inferred that the company should have absolutely no problem in selling the properties... "The reality...of the past few months is that a buoyancy has returned to the market"...

How would anyone know whether the `viability assessment' showing a lack of developer return (profit) was accurate, and that City Suites weren't just trying to screw Salford people out of vast sums of money?

The Star believed that the developer should be accountable to Salford people and asked to see the `viability assessment' under the Freedom of Information Act – particularly in light of a recent case in London...

Here, at a tribunal involving Southwark Council/Lend Lease v the Information Commissioner it was agreed that "the importance...of local people having access to information to allow them to participate in the planning process outweighs the public interest in maintaining the remaining rights of Lend Lease", and former `confidential' development figures were disclosed.

The Salford Star put this information to Salford Council and, almost three months later (they are supposed to reply in twenty days), the request has been refused, with the Council stating the circumstances are `different' and that it is `in the public interest' to keep the figures secret. Or, in more Council-speak...

`The case is not an authority for the proposition that "viability appraisals must be disclosed" in all cases. Whether disclosure is required will depend upon the particular circumstances and the balance of the public interest in disclosure versus the public interest in non-disclosure in the light of those. In fact, in the Southwark case the balance of public interest fell differently in respect of different parts of the viability assessment and only some parts of it were required to be disclosed. Furthermore, the City Suites development is substantially different (both in terms of scale and the manner of its funding) from that which the Southwark case was concerned with, meaning that information of the type that was required to be disclosed in Southwark would not automatically be disclosable in this instance.'

The Salford Star has asked for an internal review of the decision.

Meanwhile, the application by Acroy/Dandara to build 995 flats and `commercial floorspace' in four blocks up to 23 storeys high at Chapel Wharf next to The Lowry Hotel goes back to the planning panel on 5th February after being deferred at the last meeting for having too many one bedroom flats. The developer has changed this to meet Council policy – but is still set to avoid paying £2.76million in Section 106 obligations...and providing any affordable housing.

• The full Salford Council response to Salford Star's Freedom of Information request...

"I write in reference to your request for information dated 6th November 2014, which the Council has considered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("the FoIA) and, insofar as environmental information may be concerned, under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 ("the EIR").

The Council confirms that it holds the requested information. However, the Council declines to release the information requested. It does so on the basis of the relevant exemptions under the FoIA or, insofar as environmental information is concerned, under the relevant exceptions under the EIR. As the Information Tribunal case cited and relied upon by you, namely London Borough of Southwark v The Information Commissioner and Lend Lease (Elephant and Castle) Limited and Adrian Glasspool (EA/2013/0163) (2014), considered only exceptions under the EIR (the Tribunal holding that on the facts of that case that the content of the viability appraisal concerned was environmental information) I shall address the relevant exceptions under the EIR first and in greater detail.

Before doing so I would like to state that it is the Council's view that your characterisation of the decision in the Southwark case does not appear to be accurate. The case is not an authority for the proposition that "viability appraisals must be disclosed" in all cases. Whether disclosure is required will depend upon the particular circumstances and the balance of the public interest in disclosure versus the public interest in non-disclosure in the light of those. In fact, in the Southwark case the balance of public interest fell differently in respect of different parts of the viability assessment and only some parts of it were required to be disclosed. Furthermore, the City Suites development is substantially different (both in terms of scale and the manner of its funding) from that which the Southwark case was concerned with, meaning that information of the type that was required to be disclosed in Southwark would not automatically be disclosable in this instance.

The exceptions under the EIR that the Council relies upon are as follows:

Regulation 12(5)(e) of the EIR: Confidentiality of Commercial or Industrial Information

This exception is engaged in respect of the environmental information that has been withheld. The Council considers that the information comes within the terms of the exception because, applying the test in Bristol City Council v Information Commissioner and Portland and Brunswick Squares Association (EA/2010/0012/24 May 2010), it satisfies the following:

a) The information is of a commercial or industrial nature. This is because the submitted viability appraisal records assumptions relating to capital values, rental, investor yield and expected sales rates, value per square foot and fit-out costs.  This information, which the applicant advises reflects a bespoke model, would be of value to developers who may wish to compete with the applicant in the provision of such accommodation.

b) The nature of the information and circumstances in which in came into the Council's possession are such that the Council has an obligation of confidence in respect of it.

c) The confidentiality is protecting a legitimate economic interest, namely that of City Suites (Manchester) Ltd. for the reasons outlined in paragraph (a) above.

d) The confidentiality would be adversely affected by disclosure. Disclosure of the confidential information into the public domain would inevitably harm the confidential nature of that information by making it publicly available, and would also harm the legitimate economic interests that have been identified.

Regulation 12(5)(f) of the EIR: Interests of the Person Providing the Information

This exception is also considered to be engaged in respect of the environmental information that has been withheld. This is because the person who provided the information:

a) was not under (and could have not been put under) a legal obligation to supply it to the Council or any other public authority;

b) did not supply it in circumstances such that the Council or any other public authority was entitled apart from the EIR to disclose it; and

c) has not consented to its disclosure.

Both the above exceptions under the EIR are subject to a public interest test which must be satisfied before the exceptions can be relied upon (it is also to be noted that under the EIR a public authority must apply a general presumption in favour of disclosure). In applying the public interest test the Council has considered all relevant factors, including:

• The public interest in transparency concerning the development of land and the associated decision making in respect of planning applications.

• The public interest in the commercial interests of third parties making planning applications to the Council not being undermined by the disclosure of commercially sensitive material that has been submitted as part of the application process.
Having carefully considered that balance of public interest in this case, the Council has concluded that the public interest in maintaining the exceptions outweighs the public interest in disclosure. As noted above the circumstances in this case are substantially different from those in the Southwark case cited by you. In particular, the Southwark case concerned a development that was on a much larger scale than the development your request relates to and which entailed a substantial public funding commitment from the local authority involved. Consequently, the arguments in favour of disclosure are not as strong in the case of the information that you have requested and the balance of the public interest is judged to lie in favour of non disclosure.

Insofar as any of the requested information does not amount to environmental information, it is withheld by the Council under the exemptions to disclosure provided by section 43 and/or section 41 of the FoIA. These will be detailed somewhat briefly, given that much of the same ground is covered in the consideration above of the relevant exceptions under the EIR.

Section 43 of the FoIA – Commercial Interests

Section 43 is considered to apply because the disclosure of the information concerned is likely to prejudice commercial interests. The reasons for this are as detailed above in respect of the exception under Regulation 12(5)(e) of the EIR.

Section 43 is a 'qualified' exemption, which means that it is subject to a public interest test. The Council has applied the public interest test and has determined that, on balance, it is more beneficial to the public to withhold the information than to release it. In reaching this decision the Council has considered similar factors to those considered above when applying the public interest test in respect of the exceptions under the EIR referred to above.

Section 41 of the FoIA – Information Provided in Confidence

Section 41 is considered to apply as the information concerned was obtained from a third party in confidence and disclosure of that information could amount to an actionable breach of confidence. This is an absolute exemption, with no need for the Council to consider the public interest test.

SodTheDrummer wrote
at 07:36:43 on 11 July 2016
Socialism is bollocks. It will never work, there is always someone who is more equal than the rest. Councillors who like to line their own pockets and those to whom they are related.
Salford Star wrote
at 16:30:58 on 07 February 2015
See Anon comment below - totally agree. Any `debate' that veers stupidly away from the main article will in future be blocked
Anon wrote
at 16:28:58 on 07 February 2015
What a boring debate. No one cares. Can we get back to the subject of the article?
Bernard Brough wrote
at 10:35:28 on 07 February 2015
How does it do that "Dave"? I'd love to hear. These "low lives", do they include the people that Thatcher covered for? Does that mean that Thatcher was a socialist? "Dave" calling you a racist homophobe is not name calling it is describing you.
David cameron wrote
at 08:59:35 on 07 February 2015
Sorry Bernard, I know it's hard to swallow being a socialist, but Rotherham perfectly explains what socialism is, as do's Rochdale, oxford, Cambridge, Bradford and many more, it's just more prevalent that these type of low lives feel more at home amongst socialists and labour held councils, you've only got to look at the above places, they operated for years without being touched, so living amongst socialists they feel safe and at home. By the way did you get a refund. Ps seems your reverting back to name calling, now, now Bernard you'll have yourself a Sean Connery, try camomile tea, it'll calm you down
Bernard Brough wrote
at 11:54:19 on 06 February 2015
What in the name of Keir Hardie has the events in Rotherham got to do with socialism? I have noticed that when the argument gets the better of you you fly off at a tangent and blather on about things unconnected and as a back up bring race into it. You are a racist, homophobic and probably misogynistic individual, but then you suit UKIP down to the ground. It is time you grew up.
David Cameron wrote
at 20:59:27 on 05 February 2015
@bernard on socialism I don't know what it is, I think Rotherham explains it perfectly, every labour councillor has just resigned, the government is sending people down to take over the running of it. Labour, socialism, political correctness, multiculturism, all used to stop this abuse of white school girls from coming out, people like your self who use the word racism to stop debate where there is no racism, just read some of what went on in Rotherham and it is truly sickening, a number of labour councillors from Rotherham are being investigated for actually taking part in the raping these girls, only yesterday labour have announced sex education for five year olds, in light of labour turning a blind eye to what went on in Rotherham, why would anyone trust them to teach 5 year olds sex education.@ felse. Bum, bum as basil brush would say, but got to say Bernard's funnier.
Michael F in Felse wrote
at 09:32:41 on 05 February 2015
@DavidC has me in stitches, funny beyond belief, but is correct to realise, as a bi-sexual SalFord's voice I will be happy at an Elton or Richard-Victor-Wilson party, because unlike a Tory Party I do not have one foot in the grave.
Bernard Brough wrote
at 09:32:07 on 05 February 2015
"Dave" the French question? Is this where we find out your "final solution" for the French? I take it you mean the number of French tax dodgers domiciled in London, yes there has been an exodus. I don't see what your point is, but then you rarely make one. I'm still waiting for these blinding insights you claim to have made and will probably die waiting to hear one. I think we can conclude that you either a) don't have a clue what socialism is or b) are scared to admit that such things as a free health care system, a free education system, those who create the wealth enjoying a greater share of that wealth are good things. You see "Dave" debating means coming up with a cogent argument and backing it up with facts, not blathering on about "limp wristed" socialist and name calling. Which is easy to do when you don't have the balls to use your own name. But then again I expect nothing more from cowards.
David cameron wrote
at 16:16:54 on 04 February 2015
Bernard, not going to get into socialism, dead right your not, been totally blown out of the water. Socialist ed balls, happily named after last night, after labour attacked big business, asked about the big businesses who supported labours plans, said bill what's his name, probably the other half of bill and Ben and these are the type of socialists you want in charge of the country. Sorry Bernard didn't quite get the winning socialist party your advocating for salford and an answer for the French question wouldn't go amiss ether. Must be annoying Bernard staying away from the star, whilst you go on a leftwing debating course and then come back and then get out debated on your return, don't worry Bernard show them the articles you might be able to get a refund. Just ordered you a book off amazon, debating for dummies, first chapter, how not to loose a debate, don't talk socialism, well you've learnt that bit already, haven't you Bernard.
David cameron wrote
at 16:16:29 on 04 February 2015
Today's weather forecast, Michael felse to change political parties. He's had more parties than Elton john. He'll be telling us he's bi-sexual next. Whatever next Bernard brough a socialist.
Michael F in Felse wrote
at 13:05:01 on 04 February 2015
Excellent to see this debate is taking flight across SalFord, showing a big appetite. Many people still do not realise 28% of all Labour's votes come from gay, lesbian and bi-sexual adults across the UK. With 8% of UK population Gay, 9% Lesbian and 11% bi-sexual. The only thing mattering to the group is equal rights and Labour delivers best on that topic. With a spit vote in SalFord between UKiP and Tories the LGBT gay votes will assure Labour of its two MP seats.
Bernard Brough wrote
at 10:18:13 on 04 February 2015
"Dave" "Dizzy Aussie bird"? does your bigotry know no bounds? I'm not going to get into anything regarding socialism, it is clear you have no idea what socialism is. This new party with new ideas wouldn't be UKIP would it? The same party that will eradicate employment rights, develop fracking, privatise the NHS, increase the use of slave labour through "workfare" schemes, scrap wind turbines, abolish inheritance tax. The same party with members who think that gay rights are a "lunatic's charter", claim that homosexuals prefer sex with animals and claim that there is a link between paedophilia and homosexuality. What a great "new" party. The sound more like a bunch of Neanderthals.
David cameron wrote
at 10:18:07 on 04 February 2015
who let the nutter in, Bernard, you know you've always been welcome on here. Answer the question Bernard, who's the socialist party in salford that can challenge labour, the sad fact Bernard for all your whining, the socialism you want to go back to is dead in the water, millipede through pressure from his political pay masters the unions have been trying to take us back to the union run 70s, people remember the three day strikes, power cuts, rubbish piled up in the street the dead not being buried the country being labeled the sick man of Europe. So come on Bernard name the socialist party in salford that is electable that will take us back to the above, your silence is deafening. Fact Bernard there's only three parties in salford with any chance of being elected in salford labour/Tories/ukip. Oh by the way the dizzy Aussie bird who runs the Green Party wants a open door policy on immigration, anyone from around the world, health and benifit tourists will be allowed to stay in this country.ps if you want to know what going back to socialism will do to the country just look at France when they did the same thing, income tax 80/90% unemployment up, people with money and inspiration and the ability to make jobs left in their droves.
joe Oneill wrote
at 05:20:20 on 04 February 2015
Tactical voting I spoke over 7 years ago to a senior member of Salford Tories not interested, they have to fill seats sad fact but correct. If it was possible would I do it? of course, I have lost because of the split vote a number of times but people forget politics can be a dirty game you try to win at all cost. This year I feel confident in the fact we have two excellent candidates with excellent track records we can and will support both with every thing we have. we cannot match the unions funds Unite are a hard act to follow but we will try, one reader calls us one side of a turd, well I can only speak for the people I am working with the elderly the young the unemployed coloured Jewish what ever, all Salford people none rich but all unified in a cause to see change the people decide and all we can do is ask for support no more.
Bernard Brough wrote
at 05:19:02 on 04 February 2015
OK, who let the nutter in?
David cameron wrote
at 05:18:56 on 04 February 2015
People of salford are not that stupid, 40+ years of socialist labour in salford, think you answered your own question Bernard, amazing how all the socialists in salford go on about how deprived salford is, the Labour Party keeps it deprived, to keep labour in power in salford. We've got millions in reserve we spend millions on stadiums, bridges, peas, fountains, people keep saying salford is broke, the only thing broke is the typical salfordian not being able to think for them selves, but when you look at the northwest educational league table as reported in the star, salford coming second from bottom out of what 39 councils you can see why labour always get back in, this is why the Labour Party and the teachers unions hated Michael gove, he believed in everyone getting an education, education frees people, labour wants to keep people uneducated, wants to keep them enslaved and voting labour. Time for a new party in salford and for fresh and new ideas. Labour have had 40+ years and bankrupted and sold the city. Please Bernard tell us about a socialist party in salford that's capable of defeating labour in salford and then not dragging us from the gutter to the sewer, like I've said before the socialist ideology is dead and please don't say the greens, after what the dizzy Aussie bird who runs them said last week , I think the'll be lucky to get a vote at a lunatic asylum, mind you probably get a lot of votes at the BBC, the've had a long history of loving terrorists, still can't bring them selves to calling them terrorists, still can't forget the scum newswoman from the BBC who cried at the terrorist yasser Arafat funeral, the day the BBC licence fee should have been scraped.
Michael F in Felse wrote
at 20:13:46 on 03 February 2015
Obviously, as a bi-sexual I will be voting Labour in the Salford General Election to help us retain equal rights for my community. My big worry @Bernard is in fact that Salford people may be tricked into voting in UKIP or even the SalFord Tories; under-minding my life-long campaign for LGBT equal rights in the UK.
Bernard Brough wrote
at 17:41:01 on 03 February 2015
So vote UKIP and get a Tory. Vote Tory and get UKIP. Two sides of the same turd. I doubt the people of Salford are that stupid.
David cameron wrote
at 17:40:56 on 03 February 2015
If people look at the last local elections, it was the Tory vote that stopped ukip from gaining a number of seats in salford, if Tory voters want to make a change in salford then the Tory voter have to vote ukip the strongest opposition to labour. Tories have to say to them selves, would I rather have a ukip councillor/ MP who is nearer to me politically or would they rather have a labour councillor/MP who are intent on destroying not only this city but the country. Time for Tory voters to vote tactically and after the last election in salford that is ukip, would the Tories rather have a ukip councillor round the council chamber table or a labour councillor. It was David Cameron who refused to work with ukip not the other way round. We've had 40+ year of labour in salford, 40+ years of believing they have a Devine right to govern and this is what has given them there arrogance of they know best, time for change.
Michael F in Felse wrote
at 07:53:54 on 03 February 2015
I must agree with @Confused. In view of UKiP standing in both seats I will presume SalFord Tories will now follow the same approach. It forces me to change my previous prediction to instead a WIN for Labour in BOTH Salford/Eccles and Worsley MP seats. I am sure UKIP and SalFord Tories will expect congratulations at them playing right into the hands of Mr Miliband. Not understanding tactical platforms means the split blue and disillusioned voters once again guarantees Salford MP seats will be easy wins for Labour.
Confused wrote
at 20:43:03 on 02 February 2015
Joe, a Labour voter has informed you of the way that both you and the Tories can win a seat in Salford. If you and the Tories are both pig headed enough that you can not see what is in front of you and you decide to take each other on then you will split the vote and Salford will once again have two Labour MP's who feel they are untouchable. I know what I would prefer and it's one devil and one unknown, over the current untouchable don't give a fooks. UKIP could not win both seats so why not take one and let Salford reap the greater benefits of getting rid of two fence sitting, party tail wagging, in it for themselves MP's ?
Joe O'neill wrote
at 07:23:13 on 02 February 2015
Wrote their will be no deals with the Tories Both seats have candidates our Salford office will open within the next two weeks and campaigning will start in earnest.
at 16:23:38 on 01 February 2015
as a Labour voter I hope UKIP do not do a deal with salford Tories! if UKIP(without any tory standing) field in salford-eccles MP election and Tories only (without a UKIP) field in the worsley MP's election they could BOTH take the seats from Labour. At the same time giving Labour a run of their lives where labor would have to pull in workers from other north west seats putting labor in real danger
David cameron wrote
at 12:30:35 on 01 February 2015
@michael felse, let's hope your right, it's a three horse race, labour/Tory/ukip any one outside this band is just a wasted vote, let's just hope the people of salford get out and vote and stop being drawn towards the small pressure groups outside this band who have no hope of winning. Remember ukip came second in every ward they entered barring two in salford. if you want change in salford, then it's there, right in front of you.
Michael F in Felse wrote
at 06:59:03 on 01 February 2015
Stupidly, SalFord Council is playing right into the hands of UKiP. I predict a clear majority for UKiP at SalFord's general election. Only Labour, blinded by their own authority, will be to blame for a shift in votes that will put SalFord on the front page of every National newspaper.
Alice Searle wrote
at 13:16:47 on 31 January 2015
I think the Council believes we will all be 'blinded' by the complex use of legal, contorted language. It is all done to put us off any efforts to find what is really happening. Why does there need to be such 'confidentiality?' Surely the people who pay the salaries of Salford employees are entitled to know .'everything' it does in their name. If these dealings with developers are honest and in line with the social responsibilities of companies (such as 106 payments) then there would be no need for such confidentiality. I think the word 'confidentiality' should be replaced by 'cover up.'
UoS wrote
at 06:21:37 on 31 January 2015
British politics has never solved the problem of a betterment tax. Each attempt failed, for political or technical reasons. Section 106 agreements were a Conservative attempt to abrogate the responsibility from central government and hand it to local councils, safe in the knowledge that the developer could appeal to a greasy-palmed Secretary of State if they did not get the answer sought from a local authority. In short, the distribution and use of land in England is no different now than it was three hundred years ago - utterly corrupt, and in the total control of a tiny number of wealthy controlling interests. This in a country with not much land to give away. And as always, it is the poor who are totally shafted as their only birthright - the land upon which they walk - is handed piece-by-piece to the wealthy.
Anon wrote
at 19:42:51 on 30 January 2015
Time to refer one of these cases to the Information Commissioner and let them decide. The viability appraisal must contain assumptions as to the developer's costs (which in turn affects yield and profit). Who really knows what a reasonable cost would be for labour, for the cost of steel or concrete, for consultancy services, the cost of borrowing money to build it, the cost of the developer's own overheads and so on. Even with the input of a qualified, experienced surveyor, figures are difficult to validate as actual costs can vary enormously due to the relationship different developers have with suppliers and these costs will also vary over time. The only figure that is fixed and in the public domain is how much they paid for the land as this should be held by the Land Registry. So in terms of the viability appraisal there is actually a great deal of educated guesswork going on. A lot will depend on trust existing between those who compile the viability reports and those who scrutinise them. But how can the public have any degree of confidence in the process with so much hidden for reasons for 'commercial confidentiality'? And this is important stuff. A few million would be enough to fully renovate Peel Park and build that bridge to it from the Crescent. Or fund more badly needed affordable homes. Or lay down more cycle lanes. Or improve Salfords leisure centres. Or plant more trees. Or fund better health centres. Or improved bus links. There are countless bits of infrastructure that Salford badly needs that could be delivered if only developers paid, what are rightly termed, their obligations; "planning obligations" they may be, but obligations to society would be a better description.
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