Obligations reform aim causes tariff concerns

The government's aim to reform planning obligations could lead to councils adopting different tariff regimes to encourage or repel development, the government was warned this week.

Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) director Gideon Amos said that the proposal to overhaul planning gain unveiled last week (Planning, 7 November, p2) is welcome but stressed that it would need to be backed up by "tight guidance" for it to work.

Planning minister Keith Hill, announcing the proposed changes, said that developers will have to choose between negotiating planning obligations or adhering to a set tariff outlined in development plans. The move is designed to strike a balance between the flexibility of agreements and the transparency of tariff scales.

But Amos said that the government will need to ensure that councils apply a consistent method of calculating tariffs. "Some local authorities will hope to underbid their neighbours to attract investment whereas others will find it tempting to set a very high tariff to repel development," he warned.

The TCPA revealed that it is concerned that proceeds from the tariff will be higher in more prosperous areas of the country, thereby increasing financial inequity between areas.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said it has "some concerns" about a higher tariff being applied to greenfield sites, which it claims could create "a perverse incentive for local authorities to put forward greenfield sites for development in preference to brownfield sites because of the greater financial reward".

The RTPI said the government's proposals represent a step towards a planning system that is "transparent, flexible and focused on delivery". Director of policy and research Kelvin MacDonald commented: "The new spatial planning system must focus on delivery and this change adds to its ability to do so."

However, MacDonald warned that new development should not be expected "to pay for years of low investment in these services nor for new facilities that should be national priorities". He added that the RTPI is concerned that government policy objectives could suffer as the list of potential uses for the funding through the new system is expanded.

Faraz Baber, director of planning and development at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said: "It is right that developers will have a choice to either hold long negotiations or stick to tariffs that they will have to live with. But we need to measure how the system will be implemented. Tariffs that are set will have to be pretty consistent. The local tariff will have to be set across the board."

The British Property Federation agreed that the devil could be in the detail of the new policy. Planning director Chris Morley said: "We will need to discuss with the government how it intends to ensure that these charges are pitched at a reasonable level, reflecting the precise nature, location and viability of any proposed scheme."

Mark Southgate, head of planning policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said that it would be important for local authorities to be able to ring-fence money from the tariff for its intended purpose.


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