I certainly agree that it would be desirable to get rid of outline planning permission, which many developers use to get a foot in the door and then have councils over a barrel. However, if we are going to give councils the power to have a proper plan-led system, we need to ensure that we have a better system for development to pay its own way.
Part of the opposition to new housing comes from the fact that too often it comes without the necessary infrastructure. Without new schools or roads, the GP’s surgery and everything around the new housing becomes more congested and, of course, people object to that. People see developers making humungous profits while the infrastructure is either not provided at all or the cost is dumped on the taxpayer.
Section 106, the way in which councils currently get developer contributions, is totally dysfunctional. Councils cannot use it to fund recurrent expenditure or anything that meets an existing need in the community. It can only fund a new need that is tied to the new development. Contributions are tied to specific purposes, so if what the community wants changes in five years’ time, that is tough luck.
Given that collection is fragmented among lots of authorities—fire, police, health, county and district councils—developers sometimes get away without paying. They can hold off making payments by staying below certain trigger thresholds, and if they are able to hold off for long enough, the opportunity to build a new village hall, for example, is often lost. If a community has only rolled up enough contributions within a specific time period to pay for half a new school, for example, then it gets nothing and the money goes back to the developers. In 2014, the BBC found that councils had returned to developers £1.5 billion that had been intended for the community. When my constituents read that, they are outraged.