Government aims to introduce transparent formula-based process with aim of boosting affordable housing.
The government this week signalled its intention of making planning gain agreements more transparent. The move is a response to criticism that the present system gives too much scope for secretive and questionable deals.

If the proposals become law, standardised tariffs will be applied by local councils in accordance with their development plans. This means that housebuilders, developers and members of the public will be able to calculate exactly what is expected before a planning application is made.

The proposals, contained in a supplementary document to last week's green paper on planning, stipulate that the tariff should always apply unless a developer can show why it ought to be reduced. The report says: "Under our proposals, it would be for the developer to provide sufficient justification as to why site-specific circumstances warrant a reduction in the standard tariff."

The House Builders Federation gave a frosty reception to the government's approach. A spokesperson warned: "These proposals seem to give local authorities carte blanche to do whatever they want."

He added that standardising planning gain agreements might lead to inflexibility, but conceded that the proposals would clarify what was expected from housebuilders in their planning applications.

The document makes it clear that the government intends to use the planning gain system, officially known as section 106 agreements, as a key weapon in its campaign to tackle the shortage of affordable housing.

In a statement, the DTLR said: "The provision of affordable homes is expected to be the main beneficiary of this approach, with commercial developers contributing as well as housebuilders."

The HBF criticised the exclusive allocation of certain sites for affordable housing as part of planning gain agreements.

The spokesperson said: "This seems to go against the government policy of promoting sustainable mixed communities. There is a complete danger that this is heading towards the establishment of sink estates."

A spokesperson for the Royal Town Planning Institute said it had advocated a tariff-based approach to planning gain during the consultation process and the government's proposals were a considerable improvement on the present system.