Halman on ... clarity lost by incentive deal

In April, regulations governing the use of the community infrastructure levy (CIL) came into effect.

They included changes to the permitted scope for planning obligations under section 106 agreements, which must now conform to stringent rules on what they can cover.

This narrows their scope and brings into law a policy that planning authorities did not always follow to the letter.

In other circumstances developers would have welcomed this change. Excessive requests for planning gain are outlawed, but there are downsides as well.

The coalition is lukewarm about CIL and councils seem reluctant to invest resources in preparing the detailed evidence base needed to introduce it. The flexibility of section 106 is no more and there is nothing sensible in prospect to replace it.

The community loses out as councils are unable to accept offers from applicants on their behalf where these offend the CIL regulations.

This seems at odds with the idea of introducing financial incentives for councils and communities to accept local development. Ministers foresee this as key to encouraging authorities to embrace new development in the absence of regional targets.

We should aim to prevent the worst excesses of council demands. But in an era of austerity, when local authority spending will be massively cut, surely there is benefit in keeping the door open to offers that deliver sensibly related community benefit and, importantly, are made voluntarily?

In those circumstances it's the community that loses out and a law that gets in the way of two consenting parties is looking increasingly misconceived. It is time for a fresh look.

Gary Halman is partner at commercial planning adviser HOW Planning LLP and a past chairman of the RICS planning and development faculty. The views expressed are his own.

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