Essex county coucillors concerned about proposed changes to planning system

Essex County Council. Photo: ANDRA MACIUCA.

Essex County Council. Photo: ANDRA MACIUCA. - Credit: ANDRA MACIUCA

Essex county councillors are concerned over the government’s proposed overhaul of the government planning system.

They are especially worried about the changes to infrastructure levies.

The Government’s white paper sets out key principles for a new English planning system.

The paper is likely to involve reforms extending from plan making – which would create a zoning arrangement under which land would be allocated for growth, renewal, or protection – to the complete replacement of the method used to pay for infrastructure through so-called Section 106 and Community Infrastucture Levy (CIL) contributions, with a one-size-fits-all consolidated ‘infrastructure levy’.

Essex County Council have argued the abolition of Section 106 and CIL agreements, which local authorities use to make sure development includes affordable homes, could lead to taxpayers picking up the costs.

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Under the reforms, S106 and CIL would be replaced with a new nationally set infrastructure levy calculated as a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold and payable on occupation.

The government states the new levy’s aim is to raise more revenue, and deliver as much or more affordable housing.

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The white paper places an emphasis and risk on allowing local authorities to borrow against forecast levy contributions to forward fund “strategic infrastructure” rather than this being delivered by a developer.

The government states this will ensure the rate is charged on the final value of development, be levied at point of occupation, provide a value-based minimum threshold below which a levy is not charged and provide greater certainty for developers and communities in respect of the likely charges.

It adds it would also allow local authorities to borrow against infrastructure levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure.

The paper says in turn this would help to ensure development can be completed faster.

But councillors from all sides have questioned how this would work.

Matthew Jericho, spatial planning manager at Essex County Council, said in a presentation to councillors that agreeing Section 106 agreements, particularly on larger sites, remains a “complex and challenging process and can be a major cause of delay”.

However, he said it does create a direct link between new development and the measures necessary to mitigate the effects of proposals.

He added that it is unclear how the levy would be split among two tier authorities. Effective implementation would appear to be linked to local government reform and larger and combined local authority areas.

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