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Pickles vows to unlock stalled schemes

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Communities secretary Eric Pickles has launched an attack on ‘unrealistic’ section 106 agreements with a new programme to encourage councils and developers to renegotiate subsidies thought to be blocking development

Under plans to tackle ‘economically unrealistic agreements’ made during the boom announced for consultation this week developers may request councils to reconsider all Section 106 agreements made prior to April 2010. Currently deals may only be renegotiated five years after a council refuses a developers’ request for voluntary renegotiation.

At the same time, as part of a pilot mediator scheme, the government has dispatched teams of independent brokers to ten local authorities – including Leeds, Ipswich, Corby, Ashford and Durham – to offer free advice to help kick-start renegotiations.

The brokers will provide technical expertise to unlock negotiations, act as go-betweens in disputes and offer access to a range of support services.

Together the moves are part of a government strategy to unlock 1,400 stalled housing schemes of more than 10 housing units with planning permission.

Pickles said: ‘There is huge potential in sites to boost local economies and we simply cannot afford to have them lying idle because of earlier agreements that are no longer viable.’

Architects welcomed the attempt to kick start development but said further help was needed to help resurrect stalled schemes.

Hari Phillips of Bell Phillips Architects said the ‘desperate need’ for more affordable housing should not be compromised in the drive to move projects forwards.

Alex Ely of Mae argued a review of land value needed to proceed ‘hand in hand’ with efforts to stimulate supply and drive economic growth through construction. ‘Otherwise once again it is just the public sector losing out,’ he said.

Aedas director Dominic Manfredi  said mediation was ‘certainly sensible’ but warned the initiative was ‘unlikely to prove a panacea for all development woes.’

He said: ‘The vast majority of projects that have stalled have done so through a lack of financing options or because they are no longer commercially viable.  The key to unlocking them lies in the economic rather than the planning landscape’.

 

Further comment

 

Nick Willson of Nick Willson Architects

On one hand the freeing up of stalled regeneration projects has to be good for the stalling construction sector and as architects are at the front of the process, also good for struggling architecture practices. However, what are unrealistic S106 agreements, and will this have a negative effect [by] reducing the number and quality of the projects delivered under S106 agreements? Social housing projects are ideal for small practices but if they become less likely this could reduce workload. We have a lovely project which has stalled due to a S106 agreement, which we have proved is not appropriate with traffic surveys and with agreement by the traffic department, the project may now not go ahead or will have to go to appeal.

Adam Ross, director of planning at Broadway Malyan

The Government’s proposed use of independent brokers to help review Section 106 Agreements on stalled developments can only be good news. Many councils are reluctant to re-visit legal agreements based upon a distrust of developers and a feeling that they are losing something that they have already secured. However, it is important that local authorities recognise that 20 per cent of something is better than 30 per cent of nothing. The use of third party brokers can only assist in helping to deliver development and associated community benefits, and contribute towards much needed economic growth.

John Watson,head of planning at Scott Brownrigg

This is of course welcome – the economic viability context has changed drastically over the past few years and it is right that schemes should have the opportunity to be re-tested. However, planning obligations should only have been agreed where they were necessary for a scheme to proceed, so care will be needed to ensure re-negotiated contributions do not result in viable but unsatisfactory development.

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