Housing developers could see cash contributions double under new council proposals

Ten housing developers – including a string of household names – have attacked proposals from Barnsley Council which they claim could more than double the cash contributions builders have to make from new projects.

Saturday, 20th April 2019, 9:19 am
Updated Saturday, 27th April 2019, 10:23 am
Costs: Developers are upset with Town Hall proposals

It runs the risk of causing major delays through developers appealing against the costs, they say, with the possibility that some major projects may not go ahead at all if the new charging regime is adopted as formal policy.

Barnsley Council says any changes to current arrangements would have to be approved by the council’s ruling Cabinet before different charges could be imposed.

The proposals form Supplementary Planning Documents, a portfolio of rules designed to make the process of deciding the details around planning applications smoother.

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Two suggestions have caused the most alarm among builders, a so-called ‘bedroom tax’ which would see a charge of up to £1,500 per bedroom imposed on new developments to support sustainable transport projects and new rules around how much developers should pay towards the burden new families would place on schools in an area.

The SPDs are meant to support the authority’s Local Plan, which was adopted in January after years of work and earmarks areas opened up for housing projects until the mid-2030s.

Government targets have been set for the numbers of new homes to be built within the next five years and the council has been told in a letter from Leeds consultants Johnson Mowat - representing developers including Persimmon, David Wilson Homes and Barratt, Taylor Wimpey and more local firms including Orion Homes and Yorkshire Land - that their proposals could jeopardise those targets.

The council has been consulting on its proposals and the companies’ fears have been spelled out in a letter of response from the consultants.

It questions whether the impact of the proposed charges has been properly assessed – to establish whether the sums involved are viable – and states: “As things stand, there appears to be no up to date viability testing of the SPDs, individually or cumulatively, this is a major omission.

“Our own initial work informs that several of these SPDs introduce a considerably higher level of contributions to those currently used by the local planning authority.

“The resulting increase appears to be a doubling of contributions above and beyond those in the Viability Reports that supported the Local Plan.

“By way of example, our calculations suggest the typical major sites SPD contribution would increase from £3,922 per dwelling under the existing SPD’s to £8,100 per dwelling under the Proposed SPDs. This doubling will impact on the viability of many schemes and no doubt delay delivery.”

The SPDs are intended to work in tandem with the Local Plan, but the consultants say that is flawed by the lack of testing for financial viability.

They fear, if the proposals are introduced, developers will become bogged down in legal appeals, a process likely to delay developments by 18 months.

The letter to Barnsley Council states: “The adoption of the Supplementary Planning Documents in their current form will place an undue burden on the viability of residential development sites within the borough, which will in effect stall or in some cases completely restrict their delivery.

“Particularly the larger development sites that the Council will rely on most to deliver the identified housing needs of the Borough.

“In many cases this will likely lead to protracted site specific economic viability appraisal negotiations, leading in some cases to appeals.

“A process that in itself could delay the delivery of new homes from a site by up to 18 months.

“A significant proportion of the sites which would be impacted by the Supplementary Planning Document are those which are housing allocations within the newly adopted Local Plan, which the Council recognises plays a vitally important role in delivering a five year supply of housing land in the first five years post adoption of the Local Plan.

“This is the period in which the delivery of housing allocations should be given serious focus, given the implications that any under-delivery could have when the Local Plan is reviewed in five years’ time.”

Matthew Gladstone, Executive Director for Place, said: “The council is considering responses to the recent consultation and inevitably some Supplementary Planning Documents have provoked more comments than others. Any amendments made as a result of the comments received will be reported to Cabinet and Full Council in due course. In terms of current planning applications, these are being assessed against the policies in our newly adopted Local Plan with each application being considered on its own merits.”