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Brighton and Hove council gets tough with developers

Brighton and Hove council is looking to force developers to publicly disclose financial information in cases where they are they cannot meet affordable housing targets.

A report goes before the council’s tourism, development and culture committee on 11 January, which would require full viability assessments to be submitted up front with the rest of the application information in a bid to make the planning process more transparent.

These viability assessments would then be published in full for everyone to see.

At present the local authority requires that housing developments of five or more residential units provide a percentage of affordable housing, unless it would make a scheme financially unviable.

All schemes over 15 units are required to provide 40 per cent affordable housing.

Currently, developers submit viability assessments to the council, which are then independently assessed by the district valuer services (DVS).

The viability information and the independent assessment are currently not disclosed to the public in order to protect commercial confidentiality.

This lack of transparency has led to public concern on schemes where reduced affordable housing provision has been accepted by the council on grounds of viability.

Now the authority is proposing to insist that developers show their sums in applications falling short of the affordable housing target.

A public consultation on the issue was held in the autumn. The majority of respondents felt that the measures would lead to greater transparency, understanding and trust in the planning system.

Developers however were concerned that commercially sensitive information could be disclosed and this had the potential to hinder development in the city.

‘In many cases there may be perfectly good reasons why a developer cannot meet 40 per cent,’ said committee chair, Alan Robins.

‘For example a council might want them to pay for other things such as a new leisure centre. But sometimes developers might be trying their luck by raising viability issues.

‘Either way, it could be beneficial for the public to have the same information as councillors on the planning committee, so that everyone understands why a given amount of affordable housing was accepted or rejected.’

In December, Liberal Democrat opposition councillors handed a petition into the council, which called on the local authority to make developers provide 40% affordable homes on sites of 15 and more units.

Speaking last month, Lib Dem councillor Carrie Hynds, said: ‘Developers often use viability assessments to argue they cannot provide the required number of affordable homes and still turn a profit.

‘If all councillors and members of the public could see these viability assessments, they could be compared with the final profit actually made on the site.’

If approved, the new requirements would come into force early this year.

  • Link to the committee meeting report here

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