Out of 1,195 properties that will probably be approved from these six applications featured, Salford will be lucky to get two social houses...
The Salford Star has consistently drawn residents' attention to a planning scandal that now amounts to well over £20million. In May's print edition of the Star a list was produced of every development in the city over the last twelve months in which developers avoided paying planning obligations*. At that point, £19,275,553 of fees had been lost to the city plus 830 affordable houses. And there's been loads more avoidance since then.
Developers dodged the payments by saying that their £multi-million schemes wouldn't be profitable enough, or wouldn't be `viable', if the fees had to be paid. Of course, the `viability assessments' on which such decisions were made were kept totally secret, despite the Star trying to prise them using the Freedom of Information Act.
The avoidance of planning fees by property fat cats, egged on by Tory Government policy and virtually unchallenged by a Labour Council, is a national scandal. But, in Salford, at least it was a scandal that could be exposed.
The scandal could be exposed because in virtually every planning application report that went before councillors there was a breakdown of what developers should be paying for things like public realm, open space, construction training and education contributions, plus the amount of affordable housing they should be supplying.
Planning officers included this information in reports and then stated what developers were actually paying (or not paying), and it was a simple deduction.
However, reports going before next week's planning panel for over one thousand properties, in half a dozen locations around Salford, don't have any information in them at all – so nobody knows what developers should be paying and how much they've avoided.
An example how this is working comes in the first application on the Council's list next week. This is for 107 three and four bedroom houses off Agecroft Road in Pendlebury, smack in the middle of green space that will involve `significant loss of semi-natural habitats', according to the planning officer's report...
... "The construction of 107 dwellings is likely to result in an increased use of the highway and public transport, the public realm and open space, affordable housing and place additional demand on school places in the local area" the officer adds "Planning obligations have therefore been sought to mitigate against these impacts."
In previous application reports these `planning obligations' would be listed – but here they are not listed at all. The only information in the report is that the applicant, Bellway Homes and The Manchester Great New And Central Synagogue, "does not agree, for reasons of scheme viability, to contribute the full amount considered by the City Council as necessary to mitigate the impacts of the development".
The developers have offered £599,000 in planning fees, for Deans Primary School, expansion/refurbishment of Littleton Road Sports Village changing rooms and sports pitches, and `onsite affordable housing'.
It might sound a lot, until you do the maths that planning officers have hidden. The developer should be paying, according to our reckoning, £1,009,157 (towards open space and education) plus providing between ten and twenty affordable houses. By our sums, the developers will avoid somewhere in the region of £800,000 – but we'll never know because the official figures are hidden.
And so it goes on throughout another five applications due to be considered next week. On Hulme Street, at the back of The Crescent pub, Mr and Mrs Mark Henry Sutcliffe are applying to build an ugly, humongous development featuring 246 flats and town houses in blocks of six, eight and 18 storeys.
In a `mid to high value' area like this, the Council's new SPD policy states the developer should be paying full planning contributions plus providing 10% affordable housing, which would equal a hell of a lot more than the £650,000 offered by Mr and Mrs Sutcliffe after the Council accepted their viability get-out.
In another scandal - within a scandal, within the original scandal – the vast majority of this money (£520,326.50) is going towards Salford City Mayor, Ian Stewart's pet project, the `iconic' Meadows pedestrian bridge**, rather than towards affordable housing!
The only way there will be any money for affordable housing is via a `clawback arrangement' should be scheme be suddenly more viable than anticipated (in a homeless person's dreams).
The Ian Stewart legacy bridge will get even more money from planning fees by Beaumont Morgan Developments Ltd for its Adelphi Street scheme of 383 apartments over seven floors. Here, the bridge will gobble up all of the meagre £300,000 the developer is paying, plus any `clawback' money, with no payments for anything else.
The Council's planning officers had wanted £473,000 in fees (itself a massive avoidance, as it should have been over £1million), as they disputed the level of profit and interest the developer was submitting – but then rolled over and accepted £300,000.
Meanwhile, Silverlane Developments (Greengate) Ltd, is applying to build three hundred flats in blocks ranging from fifteen 15 to 34 storeys in height... "The construction of 300 apartments with ancillary retail floorspace is likely to result in an increased use of the highway and public transport, of the public realm and of open space in the local area" states the planning officer's report "Planning obligations have therefore been sought to mitigate these impacts in accordance with the Planning Obligations SPD."
"The applicant considers that the scheme itself, through the provision of the riverside walkway and the public realm through the centre of the site adequately mitigates the impacts outlined above" the officer adds "As the applicant is not contributing the full amount considered by the City Council as necessary to mitigate the impacts of the Development, a viability appraisal has been submitted in support of their position. The applicant's viability appraisal has been assessed by the City Council's surveying consultants who have concluded that a contribution of £250,000 is justified."
And that's that. There's no other financial information at all about what the developer should be paying. All workings out are hidden away from the public eye, in line with every other application submitted to next week's meeting.
Also coming before the planning panel is Sir Richard Lapthorne's proposal for an eight storey, 24 unit residential building on the site of Albert Vaults in Chapel Street. Here the Council agrees, in a quivering of violins, that "it is accepted that a reasonable developer profit will not be generated". Again, the figures for what Sir Dick should be paying are all hidden, as he pays not even a bean to the people of Salford.
And, finally, there's an application from Phil Mayall of the English Cities Fund (ECf) for 135 private rented sector (PRS) apartments in a 16-storey block on Stanley Street, near the Premier Inn facing the River Irwell in so-called `New Bailey'.
As with all ECf developments, there is absolutely no information about any planning payments, nor where they are heading***. Planning payments are being held in a secret ECf and Salford Council controlled Development Trust Account and there is currently a push for the Information Commissioner to get involved and force the release of the information.
Today Phil Mayall was addressing a meeting of the Salford Business Group and the Salford Star went along to face up the ECf head and ask him why the details of the public money are being kept secret. He basically replied that he didn't want anyone to know because it would affect commercial interests etc, and then legged it before the end of the meeting.
Phil Mayall's attitude is symptomatic of everything tasteless that is going off in Salford at the moment. There is a veil of secrecy behind which developers are treating the city as a Monopoly Board, grabbing their profit enhancing chance, while the depleted community chest remains firmly in the hands of legacy-mad public figures and unelected bureaucrats working for huge corporations.
Next week's planning panel will be one of the biggest property fiestas in the city's recent history, with over one thousand flats and houses up for planning approval – and the community losing out yet again in £millions for proper public space and education payments, and social housing provision. Out of 1,195 properties that will probably be approved from these six applications featured, Salford will be lucky to get two social houses.
Salford City Council is allowing the rich to call the shots – with even less transparency and accountability while they are doing it. How do you make a £20million planning scandal disappear? By hiding the figures. It's scandal, after scandal, after scandal...
The Salford Star asked Salford City Council plus Assistant Mayor for Planning, Councillor Derek Antrobus, and Councillor Ray Mashiter, Chair of the Council's Planning Panel, for comments - none responded.
*For full details see the Salford Star print issue – click here
**For details of Ian Stewart's Bridge Beauty Contest – click here
***For details on ECf secrecy see the Salford Star print issue – click here
To see how the `viability' system works behind closed doors, see the previous Salford Star article for the Keepmoat development at Whit Lane when the secret figures were revealed – probably by accident... click here
The main photo shows what the Hulme Street development would look like