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Chief planner hints at government backtrack on Section 106 reforms

By 15/01/2021No Comments

The government appears set to row back on radical proposals set out last summer to ditch the current Section 106 system in favour of a flat-rate Infrastructure Levy across England.

Housing ministry chief planner Joanna Averley said the government will instead proceed “incredibly carefully” in bringing in any reforms, and that it was “very aware” of the “micro” nature of landscapes and housing markets in England.

Her comments, to an online event hosted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), follow extensive criticisms that the government’s proposals to replace the system of developer contributions from Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) with a new flat rate levy, risk stalling developments on brownfield sites and jeopardising the delivery of affordable housing.

Crop_Joanna Averley Portrait_Credit Joanna Averley

Averley said developers had also sent a very strong message to government that they valued the direct link provided by Section 106 agreements between developments and the local communities in which they take place.

Despite the bold proposals outlined in last August’s planning white paper, Averley said the government was only “at the start of thinking through” how to reform the system of developer contributions, and that any system would take account of the unique circumstances of individual communities.

She said: “In changing any form of what is basically development taxation we need to do that incredibly carefully, we need to make sure that there aren’t consequences that aren’t anticipated.

“We are very aware, as people have said, the English landscape is very unique and very ‘micro’ in its character, and that goes for housing market and property values.

“You can have very distinct conditions within a matter of miles,” she added, promising these dynamics would be “thought through”.

She said “a lot of developers” had told the government the “connectedness of Section 106 and CIL to local community is something that they value”, and added that “we need to understand how that will be reflected in any new system”.

Critics of last summer’s proposals had suggested that proposals for a “flat rate” financial contribution by developers to local infrastructure would simply serve to make more marginal brownfield sites, or those with significant infrastructure requirements, unviable, pushing development on to green fields.

Consultant Roger Hepher, founder of HGH Consulting, said he now expected the government to ditch its “idealistic and inadequately thought-through” plans to reform developer contributions. He said the government was now more likely to amend the existing CIL regime. “This could be quite attractive from the industry’s point of view – CIL hasn’t been an unmitigated success, but at least it is accepted and generally understood,” he said.

>> Also read: Ten things you need to know about the planning white paper

>> Also read: Government appoints ex-Olympic design director as £110k chief planner

The government has said it will publish a response in the spring to its own consultation, setting out how it intends to proceed with its reforms, ahead of legislation in the autumn.

The comments came as a group of environmental charities, led by the CPRE, published an alternative “vision for planning” which called on the government to row back on plans to remove powers to determine individual planning applications from new designated “growth” zones.

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, said the government needed to create a planning system that put people, and tackling the climate and ecological emergencies, at its heart.

“We all deserve a home we can genuinely afford to live in, and to have a say in shaping the communities around us,” he said. ”But as things stand, under the government’s current proposals, the opportunity to influence what happens and where in our communities would be halved.”

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