Thursday, 02 October 2014

Pickles accused of legalising cash for planning

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has been accused of attempting to legalise planning decisions made on the basis of financial reward.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England claimed in February that the New Homes Bonus, a government incentive to give councils money for new homes built, was open to legal challenge. By linking planning decisions to payments, they claimed, the decisions were ‘tainted’.

Mr Pickles has tabled an amendment to the Localism Bill, which is due to go to report stage in the House of Commons next week, that would allow councils to accept government money for agreeing to development. The CPRE claims this allows councils to make pro-growth decisions, regardless of the local plan or environmental needs.

Neil Sinden, director of policy for CPRE, said: ‘This amendment is a brazen attempt to legalise cash for sprawl. Many may have criticised the UK planning system in the past, but at least decisions were, on the whole, made on merit and not money.

‘Councils are currently facing hard financial choices. In these circumstances it is very tempting to seek to fill shrinking coffers by permitting any development, regardless of its environmental impact or the views of local communities.’

Other government amendments that will be brought forward next week include one to allow businesses to have a say in local development.

As it stands, the bill will allow neighbourhood groups to draw up planning proposals for their areas. Under the amendment membership of these groups would be extended to local businesses.

The British Property Federation welcomed the change. Chief executive Liz Peace said: ‘Businesses, including property owners, are as much a part of a community as residents and their involvement will be vital if government is to realise its aim of using the planning system to boost development and economic growth.’

A Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: ‘The amendment in the Localism Bill clarifies that local finance considerations, such as the New Homes Bonus and the Community Infrastructure Levy, may be taken into account in relation to planning applications – but only where they are material to the particular application being considered.

‘The amendment does not change the legal position on what can be taken into account in the determination of planning applications. As before - unacceptable developments should not be giving consent just to unlock incentive payments, and a matter can only be considered material to a planning application if it relates to the development and use of land, and to the merits of the application under consideration.’

Readers' comments (14)

  • Fear & Loathing

    Cash for planning ...............planning consents for cash. This may not be a totally new concept in some areas!

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  • Alpha One

    The way it's portrayed here makes it sound like one of those dodgy continental planning systems, where you pay the guy in the council a certain amount of euros and you get your planning.

    NHB is not quite the same thing. Besides, it's not a great deal removed from the current s106 regime where councils get to demand money for planning! You will give us £100k for highway maintenance or you won't get your planning!

    Friends of mine bought a house with a bit of land and did a deal with the owners who wanted a smaller house, they knocked down the big house and built two smaller ones. Council demanded more than £40k in social housing contributions. These weren't rich people, they had a little bit of money to buy a home and liked the area, the people selling didn't want to move but couldn't manage the big house. They already lived in the council's district and didn't have kids so they got them with an affordable housing contribution.

    If that's not cash for planning I don't know what is.

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  • Rosa Hooses

    Alpha,

    Your friends could have looked into what the planning policy was before buying the land and building the houses. Or are you saying the council invented a contribution just for them to pay?

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  • Notice the way this has been done. It was not included in the Bill as originally published but has been snuck in at the last minute. This is typical of the nefarious way in which the likes of Wreckless Eric operate.

    This is clearly cash for planning consent in all its gory detail. The process of negotiating S.106 policy and agreements, albeit flawed, was at least subject to some kind of democratic scrutiny. Combined with the ability of developers and speculators to, following the budget, take the lead on and fund Neighbourhood Development Plans, the latest act of democratic vandalism from Wreckless Eric will lead to speculative development of warehouses and shopping malls. Compared to housing and factory sites, these are quick and easy to throw up, with nice chunky profits to fill those brown envelopes or, maybe, fund the pet projects of influential councillors. The wider benefit to the community ois limited. Nick Ridley's ghost is there, sitting on Wreckless' shoulder, urging him on.

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  • Gavin Rider

    It is not just the new homes bonus that is questionable.

    The "infrastructure levy" that is often charged as part of the S106 agreement for a new development, is supposed to be used to provide new infrastructure to help support the development, such as by building a new link road or expanding a local school to accommodate additional local children.

    Under the localism bill, such developer contributions will be useable by the local authority to pay for EXISTING infrastructure. In other words, local authorities will be making charges to developers to help pay the street lighting electricity bill. That is a backdoor way of allowing local authorities to raise local taxes from developers to replace the central funding that has been withdrawn.

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  • I think the real problem with the NHB is that it is too half-hearted. The Government should consider instead what is done in the USA and Germany where local authorities can set their own business and council tax rates and keep the receipts. This encourages competition between districts to attract businesses and housing.

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  • Sidney Webb

    It's about time someone gave Pickles the backhander he has earned!

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  • Wreckless will make sure his ample nest is well and truly feathered...

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  • so what? Housing is a commercial situation.Cost of land is practically zero until planning consent. Developer matgins are 20 to 25% or more. Why not demand a share of the value from developers which can be ploughed back to social housing and other public services? Also no one wants development in their backyard and only way out is to offer some incentive to local communities. So Mr Pickles is not as daft as is made of in some quarters.

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  • Chris

    Are you suggesting Venk that profit margins of 20% ae excessive and deserve, for instance, being taxed to the benefit of the State?

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