Communities secretary in move to kick-start housing sites by reducing planning obligations in Section 106 deals

Eric Pickles

The government is to send in “expert brokers” to help councils renegotiate section 106 planning deals on stalled housing developments to get schemes up and running.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said the “teams of intermediaries” would be sent in to offer free-of-charge advice to councils and developers to help them come to less onerous agreements over planning obligations.

The communities department also launched a consultation which gives developers the option to ask councils to renegotiate Section 106 obligations if they were agreed prior to April 2010.

The new initiative will see the Homes and Communities Agency manage a programme of help for councils, with its planning advice team, known as atlas, doing initial assessments of whether existing planning agreements are hindering the build-out of planning permissions by making schemes unviable.

The move concerns section 106 agreements, deals struck between councils and developers as part of the planning approval process, where developers agree to help mitigate the impacts of developments by making contributions, such as paying for affordable housing or other local infrastructure.

There is concern that some s.106 deals negotiated by councils at the height of the boom put such a heavy burden of contributions on developers that they renders schemes unviable in the current market.

Pickles’ move follows a call by housing minister Grant Shapps on councils to renegotiate the deals in March last year.

However, despite this, Pickles said 1,400 sites of more than 10 homes remain stalled.

Councils including Leeds, Ipswich, Corby, Swindon, Ashford, Gloucester, Kirklees, Carlisle, Northumberland and Durham will be among the first to benefit from further help.

Pickles said: “Tackling problems with stalled development is essential to getting builders back on moth-balled sites and building the homes we need. There is huge potential in sites to boost local economies and we simply cannot afford to have them lying idle because of earlier agreements that are no longer viable.

“The support and advice the expert brokers will offer is one of the many measures we have introduced to get development underway and I hope councils grab this chance to make use of the support we are offering.

It is thought the communities department is planning to set up a panel of brokers to help the negotiations, but it is so far unclear who will staff this panel.

Pat Ritchie, chief executive of the HCA, said: “We need to see as many stalled sites as possible unlocked to deliver much needed new homes.

“So where sites are stalled because of agreements signed under very different economic conditions, we will work with councils to help see how we can get them moving again while meeting the needs and priorities of local communities.”