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SALFORD CITY COUNCIL ADMITS SCANDAL AS IT CHANGES PLANNING POLICY
 

Star date: 9th January 2019

SALFORD COUNCIL RESPONDS TO PLANNING SCANDAL

"...there has been widespread public concern about the low proportion of affordable homes"... "Transparency...is essential to maintaining public confidence in the planning system"...

After three years of the Salford Star pointing out the absolute scandal of developers avoiding planning obligations and the provision of affordable housing, Salford Council has finally responded with a proposal for a revised SPD (Supplementary Planning Document).

While there's still loads of loopholes, 'viability assessments', used by developers to avoid fees, will be made public, and there will be a minimum of 20% affordable housing on all developments in the city over 25 dwellings. The proposal will go out to consultation between 22nd January and 22nd March, to be adopted this summer.

Full details here...


Salford Land Values Salford SPD Affordable Housing
click image to enlarge

Three and a half years ago, Salford City Council adopted a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) that gave developers get-outs from paying planning obligations and providing affordable housing in huge swathes of the city.

This, together with the Tory Government's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), saw the Salford Star estimate a loss of around 40million in planning fees and well over a thousand affordable homes.*

Now, Salford Council has acknowledged the mess and the total lack of transparency in the planning process with proposals for a 'revised' SPD that goes some way to solving the scandal, although there are still loads of loopholes for developers.

One of the main ways that developers avoid planning obligations is through 'viability assessments' which have been secret documents justifying that profit levels (typically set at 18%) won't be high enough if they have to cough up the funds. There's a whole industry of companies, including Gary Neville's Zerum, which help developers draw up these assessments.

Now, the Council is proposing a tightening of how the assessments are drawn up and the companies creating them..."All viability appraisals should be produced by a relevant qualified professional, who should be instructed on the basis of conducting an independent assessment with no incentive for reducing the scale of planning obligation..." It will be interesting to see how this will work in practice.

However, after blocking frequent Salford Star requests to see viability assessments, the Council is now proposing to make them public...

"Good information on how planning obligations have been agreed and used is essential to maintaining public confidence in the planning system" the proposal report states "Where planning obligations do not accord with all of the policy requirements in this SPD, it is important that local communities can understand fully why a reduced contribution is considered necessary and appropriate. The publication of viability appraisals is a key aspect of this...

"The city council will apply a presumption that all viability assessments submitted as part of the planning application process, or in relation to clawback, will be published" it adds, although there is a loophole..."...the city council will only depart from this presumption where this would create a genuinely exceptional problem for the applicant that is highly unlikely to apply to other developments and clearly outweighs the benefits of publishing the full viability assessment..."

The Council is still going to use 'clawbacks' where contributions are reduced but things like developers 'clearly overpaying' for a site or using Greater Manchester averages for development costs will now not be used as "a justification for negotiating a reduced contribution".

Another trick used by developers to avoid planning obligations is to split a site so that the scheme is below the size where fees would be due, and the SPD states that there will be a clampdown.

However, the main complaint about Salford's planning process is the lack of affordable housing in developments, with even planning councillors trying to bring up the issue at meetings (although usually being told to shut up).

Again, the Council has acknowledged the scandal...

"In recent years, Salford has been very successful at attracting large levels of new residential development, but there has been widespread public concern about the low proportion of affordable homes that have been delivered in private sector developments and, in particular, the large number of schemes that have provided no affordable housing at all" the report states.

The revised SPD is proposing a minimum of 20% affordable housing in all developments across the city, with some sites requiring up to 50% affordable housing...

In what is called 'Premium' areas of the city (see map), developments of houses and mid-density apartments (less than six storeys) will require 50% affordable housing; in High value areas, it's 50% for houses and 35% for mid-density apartments; and in Mid/High value areas it's 35% for houses and 25% for mid-density apartments. Green Belt areas will have their own specification (between 25% and 50% according to the GM Spatial Framework see here).

Everyone now knows that 'affordable' isn't really affordable, and within the 'affordable housing' requirements, 37.5% will be social rent, with 'affordable' housing (20% less than market rent) set also at 37.5% and shared ownership at 25%.

Again, there's loopholes...

Where providing 20% affordable housing is 'challenging', "there will be situations where it is appropriate to reduce or even waive the affordable housing requirement", the report sighs "This variability in viability, both between sites and over time, means that it is appropriate that the assessment is the starting point rather than the only determinant of the affordable housing policy..."

Indeed, it explains that "the strategic viability assessment indicates that viability is sufficiently strong in some parts of Salford to support more than 20% affordable housing in new residential developments. These are the areas with the highest house prices in the city, and hence where affordable housing is especially important if a diverse range of people are to be able to access a suitable home within them..."

Meanwhile, Build To Rent schemes, which are increasing popular in the city, will have to provide 20% affordable private rent apartments, with a 20% discount on market rent. However, if the developer is charging, say, 1,000 a month for a private rent, this still makes them unaffordable.

Other factors within the revised SPD include Open Space payments, Education, Transport, Pubic Realm contributions and land for new schools.

The revised SPD is a response, at last, by Salford City Council to a planning scandal that has plagued the city, with leading councillors blaming the Government and refusing to acknowledge their own role if it was all the Government's fault, why can they now change it?

This new policy goes some way to rectifying the mess many would say after the horse has bolted but the proof will come, after the consultation and implementation in the summer...

The Revised Salford SPD is currently a draft and residents can comment on it between 22nd January and 22nd March...

By email to plans.consultation@salford.gov.uk
By post to: Planning Obligations SPD consultation, Spatial Planning, Salford City Council, Civic Centre, Chorley Road, Swinton, M27 5BY
By hand to: Salford Civic Centre main reception, Chorley Road, Swinton
Any questions can be phoned through to the Council on 0161 793 3782, or by email at
plans.consultation@salford.gov.uk

To read the full reports click here (see Salford Revised Planning Obligations SPD
 
For a full background see previous Salford Star articles...

* Government Admits Abuse of Planning Policies that Have Blighted Salford - click here

Developers Avoid 5million Payments in 2017-18 click here

Section 106 Delivers Only 16 Affordable Homes in Salford in 2017-18 click here

Salford Housing Crisis The Causes click here

42million Planning Scandal as Salford Mayor Asks What's Going On click here

See also the electronic version of Salford Star print issue 10 the 19million (as it was then) Planning Scandal click here

Under Freedom of Information, Salford Council Releases Viability Assessment - With Everything Redacted! - click here

Main image from the Salford Star print magazine in 2015

Bob the regular wrote
at 04:21:50 on 11 January 2019
I would hope in my heart that L Curran's view that people are seeing a bit of sense is right, but my brain tells me the electorate of Salford will do what they always do. Stormin Norman was doing great a few years ago, he was a good alternative to these knobs. He was competant and so were his team,and they cared about their electorate.Then came Clegg. Now , he has joined Labour.He must be up to something ,and they have not made him a councilor yet.

L Curran wrote
at 09:15:41 on 10 January 2019
More likely that they know how sick of the council the electorate of Salford are . They think if they come clean now it will give them time to clean up the mess before the elections in May. Are they going to issue a public apology to the Salford Star for reporting the truth and being demomised for that I doubt it very much. The only reason they have done this is because of all the bad publicity they have received and people are in no doubt about the way the council have totally ignored them over the years. Maybe the worm is finally turning and that is what is worrying them.

Bob the regular wrote
at 03:09:38 on 10 January 2019
Look at where the premium area is .Salford Quays. The Labour luving luvies from the BBC will like a bit of 50% affordable and social housing down there won't they? No chance of that though all the best sites are gone, and the ones left will be sold into smaller plots or land banked. Perhaps our mayor thinks as I do that there is a crash coming, and he needs supply of flats ect to match demand , in order to keep confidence in the Salford market, to keep it all going as it were.

Paul Gerrard wrote
at 13:31:50 on 09 January 2019
The Salford Star has been ignored - or reviled - for its consistent campaign against waived planning fees. At last, the Labour Council has realised that it can no longer defend the indefensible. I think the Star is entitled to an acknowledgement and an apology. How about it Mr Mayor? Charlie Winstanley?

Alice wrote
at 13:29:10 on 09 January 2019
At last we will see the truth of the greed of the developers and how the .Council has let down its residents by not pursuing affordable homes etc and apparently giving in to these developers. This report echoes what the Star has drawn attention to for the last few years. The fact that the Council has not responded to the Star's queries or commented on its reports is a sign of its guilt. Now is the time for it to come clean and find some ethics in its actions.

Gareth L wrote
at 13:29:01 on 09 January 2019
Are the council changing tact because all the best land were they wanted the beautiful people is now spoken for! A cynical view I know.

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