Developers trying to ‘avoid’ legally-binding payments to local community, says planning chief
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Some developers are doing “their very best” to avoid legally-binding payments to benefit the local community, a council planning committee chairman said.
Carmarthenshire councillor Alun Lenny said this was a source of frustration, and that such agreements – known as Section 106 agreements – should be “written in stone”.
He was speaking in support of a notice of motion which called on the Welsh Government to give councils powers to stop developers challenging Section 106 contributions on the grounds that their scheme was no longer financially viable unless the contributions were removed.
The motion also requested legislative changes which would allow local authorities to take a developer’s previous record into account as a “material planning consideration”.
The motion was carried at a meeting of full council after several councillors expressed dissatisfaction with the way they felt some developers behaved.
House builders have to abide by planning conditions as part of any consent. Larger schemes often include Section 106 contributions, such as a payment towards a play area, road improvements, or affordable housing provision.
Introducing the motion, Plaid councillor Darren Price said: “There are some developers who don’t care that much about the communities they develop in or the people who buy the houses from them.”
Drainage infrastructure was sometimes damaged, he said, ecology destroyed, insufficient street lighting provided, and Section 106 agreements reneged on.
He said these issues took a lot of time to resolve, but didn’t stop the developers in question gaining planning permission for their next scheme.
Fellow Gorslas councillor Aled Vaughan Owen cited a scheme in their ward in which he said a developer had got out of an agreement to provide affordable housing and contribute £40,000 to the community, having argued that the scheme wouldn’t be viable otherwise.
“I find it difficult to think of any other sector where companies are afforded protection for their profit margins,” he said.
Labour opposition leader, Cllr Rob James, said he supported moves to rectify the situation, but he also took aim at the Plaid-led administration for a large enforcement backlog and the departure of the department’s director, head of service and assistant head of service in recent months.
No Plaid councillor had apologised for “this failure”, he said.
Independent councillor Philip Hughes, who is cabinet member for public protection, said the enforcement section had no jurisdiction in cases where building inspectors paid for by developers signed off completed projects.
Councillors said the actions of developers which didn’t fulfil their obligations undermined responsible builders, while others said these issues had been going on for years – including when the previous Labour administration was in power in Carmarthenshire.
Cllr Lenny said: “It is a matter of frustration that some developers do their very best to avoid paying Section 106 money. These agreements should be written in stone.”
It was, he said, a “totally unsatisfactory state of affairs”.
Cllr Lenny said the planning committee had to consider each application on its merits, and also criticised Cllr James for using the motion to attack the administration.
The Welsh Government said Section 106 agreements should only be renegotiated in exceptional circumstances, for example where previously unknown land contamination was identified.
Councils could refuse changes to previously signed agreements, it said, where compelling evidence could not be provided.
On the call for a developer’s previous record to be taken into account, it said it was for local authorities to determine what constituted a material planning consideration.
It said material considerations must be fairly and reasonably related to the development concerned and the use of the land in the wider public interest.
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