Local Lib Dem councillors are fighting to make sure developers fulfil their obligation to build affordable housing as a proportion of any residential development.
Councillors Steve Pitt and Ben Dowling took a motion to the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 17th October 2017 to highlight the way developers are actively avoiding their obligation to provide affordable housing as part of any residential development in the city. The motion (copied below) outlines a proposed action plan for the Planning Department to take forward. The motion received cross-party support.
Economic Viability Assessments from Developers
Proposed by Councillor Steve Pitt
Seconded by Councillor Ben Dowling
This council recognises the need to provide quality homes which are affordable to those on low and middle incomes in Portsmouth, and for transparency in regard to planning applications to ensure that the council’s own policies, on affordable housing requirements, as laid out in the Portsmouth Plan, are met.
It has become clear that there are companies who are openly boasting in their promotion, that they can help developers to avoid paying Section 106 monies and making appropriate levels of affordable housing provision.
These companies produce what are known as Economic Viability Assessments or EVAs, in order to demonstrate that developers are not making sufficient profits to enable councils to insist on full 106 or affordable housing contributions.
This issue has caused concern among councillors across the political spectrum in the city, along with notable contributions from both members of the public and party activists of different hues.
Whilst some of these EVAs are no doubt submitted in good faith, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the reports are often prepared in such a way as to attempt to confuse local planning committees and present a misleading picture. Indeed, some councils, especially in London, are now insisting that EVAs are no longer able to be submitted unless they are able to be viewed by members of the public and in open session at planning committee meetings.
In principle, this council supports this view and will take every action possible in order to ensure that there is transparency in this regard and that developers are making the appropriate contributions to benefit our communities.
Accordingly, this council, which is committed to increasing the delivery of affordable housing as set out in the Portsmouth Plan, requests that the Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Economic Development, commissions the development of a Draft Development Viability Supplementary Planning Document to:
- Consider offering a ‘fast-track’ planning service to applications which deliver 30%, or more, affordable housing, to incentivise this behaviour by developers.
- Require any planning application which does not meet the affordable housing requirement, contained in the Portsmouth Plan, to submit an Economic Viability Assessment which must be fully public and will be published online alongside the other planning application materials.
- Require such Economic Viability Assessments to be in a standard form, to be agreed by Portsmouth City Council, to aid understanding and comparison by members of the planning committee and the public.
- Consider a threshold approach to internal review of Economic Viability Assessments, whereby large applications would be reviewed by external experts to ensure the accuracy of the assessments, especially around residual land values and assumed sales rates.
- Employ ‘clawback’ mechanisms as standard when large applications cannot comply with the affordable housing thresholds, to ensure that any subsequent improvement in viability is accompanied by an appropriate increase in the affordable housing provision.
Such a document would enable these factors to become a material consideration for the Planning Committee dependent on the circumstances of individual applications.