Friday, 10 October 2008

Goodwill Payments or Section 106 Agreements

As a member of Hartlepool Council Planning Committee I am quite used to "planning gain" or "community gain" being part of planning applications. If a developer wants to build something contentious then an offer of money towards children's play areas, road improvements, etc is quite often made to sweeten the pill. These "Section 106
agreement" funds can be spent anywhere of course not just restricted the area of development under consideration.

Any development of private housing that comes before the planning committee is now accompanied by a percentage of the properties that will be made available to the rental sector, often being given at reduced or even cost prices to an RSL (Registered Social Landlord, the successor to Council Houses in Blair/Brown's Brave New World). Local Authorities are even being told land that they own must be sold to private developers at a knock down price if the developer is partnered by an RSL to build Social Housing. I've always been a bit uncomfortable that we were in effect selling planning permission and now the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is calling on the Government to specifically stop wind farm developers going even further than Section 106 agreements by offering 'goodwill payments' to local communities when applying for planning permission.

When I read the report, "Goodwill Payments – Do they benefit communities or bring planning into disrepute?" it was interesting that the CPRE found cases in every English region where energy company goodwill payments were used for things that bear no relationship to renewable energy. The examples given, children’s play areas and senior citizens’ lunch clubs, being familiar to anyone who has participated in Section 106 agreements in planning.

Goodwill payments apparently have to be offered outside the planning system because to do otherwise would possibly lead to accusations that planning permission is being bought and sold. Interestingly, Section 106 Agreements can only be offered as part of the planning system because it is thought that to do otherwise could lead to accusations that planning permission is being bought and sold. I'd be extremely grateful if someone could explain, in simple language, without recourse to legal and financial gobbledygook, exactly what the difference is between buying and selling through perfectly legal and acceptable Section 106 agreements and buying and selling through perfectly legal but now considered dubious Goodwill Payments. It's a distinction that I'm not all that clear on to be honest!

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