The Yellow Advertiser has today (10th August) reported on government plans to reform the planning system (click here for the full article, © Yellow Advertiser). The report concentrates on the proposed scrapping of legal requirements (‘Section 106 Agreements’) that currently force developers to include affordable homes on their sites or make financial contributions towards community facilities elsewhere in the borough.
Some members of Southend’s Development Committee, which is responsible for making decisions on planning permission, have strongly criticised the proposals, others have said they need to be ‘looked at very carefully’ and the government says it just wants to cut red tape and simplify the planning process.
The 1500 families currently waiting on Southend Council’s Homeseekers’ Register are not interested in the political implications caused by scrapping Section 106 planning agreements.
Those people are desperate and want to know when they will be able to move into an affordable home – effectively a “council home” in today’s situation.
This is what we, Fossetts For The People (FFTP), are campaigning for on the land at Fossett’s Farm, across the road from the new football stadium – we want to help these people; the latest government proposals won’t.
Despite their original intention, experience shows that in practice Section 106 agreements very rarely result in that money going towards the building of properly affordable homes elsewhere in boroughs, but rather it is used as a legal get-out clause. Developers offer a comparatively small amount of money to the relevant local council – which the council is legally obliged to accept – for a park, sports facility, public art installation or other ‘social and community benefit’ and then they have to be given the go-ahead to build whatever they had planned in the first place. Indeed, there are firms of solicitors whose entire practice is devoted to finding legal ways for developers to avoid S.106 obligations.
The real problem is not a failure of the planning system, but the inability of the government to organise the building of enough homes for those on average or below average incomes. Since the then government’s decision in the 1980s to sell off the bulk of our council housing stock, under the ‘right to buy’ scheme, there has been no attempt to replace these homes with similar well-designed properties to house the subsequent generations that are now seeking affordable homes.
We are aware that the pay levels for key workers mean that they cannot afford to pay the £300,000 or £400,000 price tag for the sort of homes that developers are planning to build in Southend. The housing crisis here is long-standing and getting worse. If even land that is already publicly owned isn’t used to build public housing, we wonder if there’s any hope at all for the current and future generations who need somewhere decent to live that they can afford to pay for.
That’s why our community-led campaign is lobbying Southend Council to build affordable homes on the ex-NHS public land at Fossett’s Farm and for Homes England to sell it to them to do that.