New RICS requirements aim to make viability assessments more transparent

New proposed requirements that aim to make viability assessment reports more transparent and ban performance-related fees have been published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

New development: draft requirements for surveyors published by RICS
New development: draft requirements for surveyors published by RICS

RICS is consulting on a new professional statement for how its members involved in assessing viability in the planning system prepare reports and conduct themselves.

The consultation on Financial viability in planning: conduct and reporting has opened for four weeks. The document includes a series of mandatory requirements for chartered surveyors practising in planning viability.

Among them is a requirement that, when preparing a viability report, a statement must be provided confirming that "no performance-related or contingent fees have been agreed".

It also introduces a presumption that viability assessments "should be published in full, except where this may compromise delivery of the proposed application scheme or infringe other statutory and regulatory requirements".

It adds: "Any exceptions to this must be discussed with the local planning authority and documented early in the process."

In addition, viability assessments on behalf of developers and any subsequent reviews "must be accompanied by non-technical summaries of the report so that non-specialists can better understand them". 

The document says the professional statement "has been written against the background of various 2018 High Court decisions that highlighted the need to deal with problems encountered in practice". 

According to RICS, its professional statements "set out the requirements of practice for RICS members and for firms that are regulated by RICS".  

In a statement, RICS said: "The statement is intended to contribute to greater transparency in reporting, ensuring that there are no contingency fees, no conflicts of interest and the delivery of objective advice in an important area of public policy. 

"In particular, it is intended that reports are prepared in a way that members of the public and their public representatives can easily understand their content."

Tony Mulhall, an associate director in RICS's land group, said compared to its current guidelines for members' conduct, the draft proposals "strengthen" and make mandatory areas of practice such as objectivity, transparency and contingency fees.

He added: "In addition, we recognise that the way in which  viability appraisals are reported is not as accessible to decision-makers and the community as they need to be. 

"We hope that these mandatory requirements strike the right balance for surveyors advising public or private sector clients with the objectivity necessary to reasonably and transparently inform decision-makers."

The institution is also reviewing its broader 2012 guidance on financial viability in planning, which will take into account the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on viability in the summer.

RICS said it hopes to produce draft guidance for consultation in January 2019.

Among the changes to viability assessment introduced in the NPPF and PPG are revisions to the way land value should be assessed and an expectation that all assessment reports should be published. 

In April, a High Court judge presiding over a controversial north London appeal decision urged RICS to rethink its guidance on development viability to clear up "misunderstandings" over market valuation concepts and techniques. 

Consultation on the draft RICS professional statement can be found here.

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