Developers are trying to ‘avoid’ legally binding payments to local community, says planning chief

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Carmarthenshire County Hall seen from across the River Towy. Photo Rhyshuw1, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Richard Youle, local democracy journalist

Some developers are doing “the best they can” to avoid legally binding payments to benefit the local community, a chairman of the council’s planning committee has said.

Carmarthenshire Councilor Alun Lenny said it was a source of frustration and that such agreements – known as Article 106 agreements – should be “written in stone”.

He was speaking in support of a notice of motion which called on the Welsh Government to give councils the power to prevent developers from challenging Section 106 contributions on the grounds that their scheme was no longer financially viable unless that contributions are not deleted.

The motion also called for legislative changes that would allow local authorities to consider a developer’s past record as a ‘material planning consideration’.

The motion was passed at a full council meeting after several councilors expressed dissatisfaction with how they felt some developers were behaving.

Home builders must adhere to planning conditions as part of any consent. Larger programs often include Section 106 contributions, such as payment for a playground, road improvements, or the provision of affordable housing.

Introducing the motion, Plaid councilor Darren Price said: “Some developers don’t care so much about the communities they’re developing in or the people who buy them the homes.”

Drainage infrastructure has at times been damaged, he said, ecology destroyed, insufficient street lighting provided and Section 106 agreements reneged on.

He said these issues had taken a long time to resolve, but hadn’t stopped the developers in question from getting planning permission for their next project.

Gorslas Councilor Aled Vaughan Owen cited a plan in their ward in which he said a developer had struck a deal to provide affordable housing and contribute £40,000 to the community, having argued that the plan would not would not be viable otherwise.

‘Profit margins’

“I find it hard to think of any other industry where companies have protection for their profit margins,” he said.

Opposition Labor leader Cllr Rob James said he supported moves to rectify the situation, but he also took aim at the Plaid-led administration for a large enforcement backlog and the departure of the director of the department, department head and deputy department head in recent months.

No Plaid adviser had apologized for “this failure”, he said.

Independent adviser Philip Hughes, who is a cabinet member for the protection of the public, said the enforcement section had no jurisdiction in cases where building inspectors paid by developers approved completed projects.

Councilors said the actions of developers failing to meet their obligations were undermining responsible builders, while others said these problems had been going on for years – including when the previous Labor administration was in power in Carmarthenshire.

Cllr Lenny said: “It’s a matter of frustration that some developers are doing their best to avoid paying Section 106 money. These deals should be written in stone.

It was, he said, a “totally unsatisfactory situation”.

Cllr Lenny said the planning committee must consider each application on its merits, and also criticized Cllr James for using the motion to attack the administration.

The Welsh government has said Section 106 agreements should only be renegotiated in exceptional circumstances, for example where previously unknown land contamination has been identified.

Councils could refuse changes to previously signed agreements, he said, when convincing evidence could not be provided.

On the call for consideration of a developer’s track record, he said it was up to local authorities to determine what constituted a material planning consideration.

He said material considerations must relate in a fair and reasonable manner to the development concerned and the use of the land in the broader public interest.

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