Government reforms to planning laws could leave developers free to build in south Essex without including ‘affordable’ homes

A Southend councillor has accused the Government of planning an “act of vandalism” against the community by scrapping legal agreements that force developers to build affordable homes.

The Government is considering a range of major planning reforms, including scrapping legal agreements set out by councils that force developers to include affordable homes or make financial contributions towards infrastructure such as education or health.

Members of Southend’s Development Committee, which is responsible for making decisions on planning permission, have said scrapping the Section 106 agreements will lead to “unaffordable, poor quality homes”.

Labour councillor Daniel Cowan, of St Laurence ward, said: “Almost 50 per cent of all social and affordable housing is delivered via Section 106 agreements and whilst it would be better for councils to build the new homes we need, it cannot be done without government support.

“These reforms suggest the government is more interested in supporting wealthy developers than local communities.

“Scrapping Section 106 not only puts at risk our ability to deliver affordable housing but also the jobs and apprenticeships that can be created through Section 106 conditions.

“Not to mention the requirement for developers to fund local services such as housing for people with disabilities, hospitals, schools, parks and sports facilities.”

He added that the plans are a “stunningly regressive act of vandalism” by the Government that “will only lead to unaffordable, poor quality homes that will heap misery on local communities”.

The Government has suggested the Section 106 agreements will be replaced by a national levy which would be is a flat-rate fixed charge calculated based on the floor space of a proposed development.

Cllr David Garston (Prittlewell, Con), said the plans need to be looked at “very carefully” but said the advantage of the agreements is not just money for the town but “the protections that can be built into them” for things such as infrastructure development.

In addition to scrapping section 106 agreements, the Government is looking to shake-up the way Local Plans are put together.

The Local Plan outlines housing development over a 20 year period and forces councils to meet certain targets laid out by the Government.

In Southend that target is currently to build 1,181 homes each year – more than double the average of 498 that the council has delivered over the past three years.

However, this could increase further to 1,324 – the equivalent of an extra 2,860 homes over a 20-year period, a total of 26,480.

Meanwhile, Thurrock could be forced to 1,483 each year which is up from 1,147. Basildon could see a reduction in their housing target from 1,001 each year to just 820.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before.

“Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.”

However, the Royal Institute of British Architects warned the “shameful” reforms “won’t even scratch the surface when it comes to building the homes we need” and it will “do almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes”.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter