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DCLG move to restart S106 talks welcomed by BMF

A government move to ease deadlock in negotiations about planning gain payments has been welcomed by the Builders Merchants’ Federation (BMF).

Last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced that ministers will assign ‘honest brokers’ to help restart negotiations in several parts of the country between local authorities and property developers on Section 106 agreements.

These experts will mediate between the parties to give technical advice and guidance to resolve disputes in their role as intermediaries. The aim is to revise those agreements that are no longer economically-feasible in today’s difficult economic circumstances.

In October 2011, the BMF contributed to the DCLG consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that caused fierce public debate.

For months last year, wildlife, countryside and conservation charities mobilised their mass membership to challenge government proposals. The consultation exercise ended in a welter of claims and counter-claims over the likely consequences.

One of the less-contentious aspects ministers asked for input on was planning conditions and obligations. In its submission, the BMF predicted that planning gain payments were unlikely to end.

At a time when local authorities face spending cuts and have frozen Council Tax levels, the BMF acknowledges the arguments for and against Section 106 agreements are well-known, notably:

  • developers dislike them because of the length of time it can take to negotiate them - or inconsistencies in approach taken by different local councils;
  • critics say developers must be pressed to build more affordable housing than at present.

The BMF agrees with a widely-held industry view that talks on S106 agreements can be fraught - and negotiations can take longer to settle than the original planning application.

The merchants’ organisation would like to see efforts taken to iron out inconsistencies to provide more certainty under the NPPF that came into force on 1 April 2012.

Any clarification on the primary purposes that monies raised by planning gain can be spent on will help ease negotiations.