4 January 2018

Property developers might have to disclose finances where affordable housing targets are missed

Property developers could be made to publicly disclose detailed financial information in cases where they say they cannot meet affordable housing targets set out in Brighton & Hove’s City Plan.

At present the city council requires developments of over five or more residential units to provide a percentage of affordable housing - unless it would make a scheme financially unviable. All schemes over 15 units should provide 40 per cent affordable housing.

Currently developers submit viability assessments to the council which are then independently assessed by the District Valuer Services (DVS). The viability information and the independent assessment are currently not disclosed to the public in order to protect commercial confidentiality.

This lack of transparency has led to public concern on schemes where reduced affordable housing provision has been accepted by the council on grounds of viability.

Now the authority is proposing to insist that developers show their sums in applications falling short of the affordable housing target.  It would require a full Viability Assessment submitted up front with the rest of the application information.

Councillors are being asked to approve the new requirements in a report to the tourism, development and culture committee on 11 January. The proposals set out in the report are in line with the need for more openness sought by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and recently proposed government consultation paper.

A public consultation on the issue was held in the autumn. The majority of respondents felt the measures would lead to greater transparency, understanding and trust in the planning system. Broadly, developers were concerned that commercially sensitive information could be disclosed and this had the potential to hinder development in the city.

Committee chair Cllr Alan Robins said:  “In many cases there may be perfectly good reasons why a developer cannot meet 40 per cent. For example a council might want them to pay for other things such as a new leisure centre.  But sometimes developers might be trying their luck by raising viability issues.  Either way, it could be beneficial for the public to have the same information as councillors on the planning committee, so that everyone understands why a given amount of affordable housing was accepted or rejected.”

If approved, the new requirements would come into force early this year.

The report is among the committee’s agenda papers elsewhere on this website

: The city council recently secured 40 per cent affordable housing from
private developers in applications to build around 200 homes combined
at Overdown Rise, Hangleton (pictured) and Coombe Farm, Saltdean. 
But this has not always been possible with other applications.