Earlier this month, even the Conservative Party Prime Minister, Theresa May, promised to end the "abuse of the 'viability assessment' process" in planning, and now Manchester City Council is to vote on Wednesday to make the assessments public. Meanwhile Salford City Council, to its shame, is still hiding the documents, even after requests under the Freedom of Information Act.*
'Viability Assessments' are the documents drawn up by developers, in tandem with specialist companies, which use financial information based on things like land values, market prices, construction costs and 'allowed' profits to usually 'prove' that if they had to pay planning fees (Section 106) or provide affordable housing, their projects would not be 'viable'.
The Salford Star and others have shown that millions of pounds and thousands of affordable houses have been lost to the city, with developers using avoidance tactics like these 'viability assessments'.
While the Salford Star has been exposing this for years, it is only now that something slowly appears to be shifting on a national and local level – except, of course, in Salford.
Wednesday's motion to Manchester City Council, proposed by Councillor James Wilson, seconded by Councillor Garry Bridges and also signed by Councillors Moore, Strong, Wills, Raikes and Craig, states in no uncertain terms what is going on...
"This Council notes that developers have often used viability assessments to avoid
their obligations to provide affordable housing and where this happens, it can
damage public confidence in the planning process" it explains "Labour Councils
in Greenwich, Bristol and Lambeth have improved transparency by making their
viability assessments public.
"This Council believes that the developers who make money from building in our city have an obligation to make a fair contribution to providing affordable housing" it adds.
The motion proposes that Manchester Council...
• set out clear viability criteria based on market value compared with land value
and construction costs
• require viability assessments for developments of more than 15 units where
less than 20% of the development is affordable housing as part of the planning
process and for these to be public
• require all information submitted for the viability assessment (including any which the Council agrees is commercially sensitive) to be made available to members of the planning committee and other relevant members of the Council in advance of determination of the planning decision.
The vote takes place as part of Manchester City Council's full meeting this Wednesday, 21st March.
If Manchester City Council can vote on it...if three other councils have done it...if even Theresa May can promise to do it, why is Salford City Council still not proposing to make these viability assessments public?
The Council is merely 'having a review' of its awful planning policies, which ends on April 6th.* One of the questions it asks 'stakeholders' to answer is: "How can the transparency of the financial viability appraisal process for individual planning applications be maximised in order to maintain public confidence in the system?"
Hopefully the much maligned Manchester Councillors will give the answer on Wednesday. Meanwhile, no Salford councillor appears to have the cojones to put forward such a motion.
* For a full background see previous Salford Star articles...
Government Admits Abuse of Planning Policies That Have Blighted Salford – click here
Salford Council Releases Viability Assessment Under FOI – With Everything Blanked Out! – click here
Salford Council Consults on its Shocking Planning Policies – click here
Greater Manchester Housing Action has produced an excellent model letter to send to Manchester Council in support of the councillors' motion – click here to view it/copy and send it.