The Growth and Infrastructure
Bill is the kind of measure that many hoped had become extinct
when the Coalition government declared its commitment to
In the bad old days of Blair the government often threatened to
take over or transfer failing council functions, although in
practice these threats were rarely carried out.
Council performance improved across the board, although just why
remains controversial. Ministers of the time tend to argue that
things would not have improved if government had not waved a big
stick, but this does not prove that a threat to take over services
was the right stick to wave.
In the case of the construction sites allegedly stalled because of
incompetent or intransigent council planners, it is not even clear
there is a problem. And even less clear that the Bill proposes the
The Government has claimed that there are 1400 stalled sites
involving 75,000 homes, which may be true although it has been
reluctant to publish details.
But there is no evidence to show that all or any of these sites
are stalled because of unreasonable s106 agreements or that the
councils involved have been slow or unwilling to renegotiate them.
In fact 41 per cent of planning authorities, according to the
Government, have already negotiated reduced affordable homes
targets on their sites.
Critics of the Bill have argued that it will be counterproductive
if builders decide to wait until it becomes law in the hope of
getting a better deal from the Planning Inspectorate than the
council. Where these hopes are unrealistic - as they may easily be
- the legislation would have achieved nothing but to delay
There has been much debate on the impact on housing supply, with
the National Housing Federation claiming that abolition of section
106 requirements would cost 35,000 new affordable homes. The
Government's rejoinder has been to point out that no affordable
homes will be built unless schemes go ahead.
But a few commentators have offered a different perspective. They
point out that, in current market conditions, developers often find
it hard to attract buyers for homes they have built for sale and
are only too happy to offer them to a housing association, usually
at a better price than if they had been built as a section 106
The housing association can claim grant from the HCA for the
purchase. On this scenario, we could end up with the same number of
affordable homes we first thought of, but the developer would
simply pocket more money for providing them.
Part of the case for localism is that intervention by central
government is a very blunt instrument which rarely has the impact
intended. This Bill looks like a clear illustration of that point.
Last year (and the year before) this government claimed to be all
about localism. Does fashion need to change so fast?