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Clause 5 - Modification or discharge of affordable housing requirements

Part of Growth and Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 27th November 2012.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 10:30 am, 27th November 2012

I certainly can. Of course, I have to qualify that by saying that, in moving the amendment, I made it clear that it only deals with a relatively small, specific issue. It does not deal with the wider attack on localism implicit in the clause, which we will debate in future. Amendments 50 and 51 would restore to the local community the ability to determine that there shall be affordable housing, that it will be protected in perpetuity, that landowners who release land at below market value to make that possible can be reassured that that will continue, and that someone else will not make a windfall gain simply by subverting the section 106 obligation to retain the property in perpetuity for affordable housing or local economic needs.

I would like to explore how the clause would work, because it is dangerous. It would allow a developer, after the grant of planning consent subject to a section 106 obligation, to apply for that obligation to be either modified or lifted. There could be a scenario in which a plot of land has been made available at below market value to provide for the affordable housing needs of a community, and it has all been agreed and everyone is happy with it. However, subsequently, the developer could decide that the site is not viable, and that the way to deal with that is to seek to reverse the section 106 obligation. There is no difficulty whatever in seeing the incentives for a developer, in a situation where he suddenly sees the opportunity for a substantial windfall gain through the property becoming a market property once again, to apply for the section 106 obligation to be varied.

The test, as I understand from reading the Bill, is viability. It is not about social sustainability or meeting the needs of the community; it is purely about viability. We are in some difficulty here, because we do not know what the definition of viability is going to be. This is yet another example of how this hopelessly inadequately prepared Bill has been rushed through without proper preparation. We are told that we will get the definition of viability from the Government when they finally get around to thinking about what it should be. We are, to some extent, in the dark here. I hope that the Minister can cast a bit of light on how the Government are approaching the definition of viability, but at the moment we are having to fly blind, because we do not know what it will be.