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Lib Dems Getting Developers to Reveal All

November 14, 2016 8:30 PM

Everyone agrees that there is an acute housing crisis and a shortfall of decent affordable housing. Yet almost every major application that comes forward from developers is shrouded in impenetrable financial fog. Getting developers to provide sufficient social housing within their grandiose private schemes is, at best, an uphill task but getting them to provide hard evidence that this is somehow unaffordable is like extracting teeth.

There has long been pressure to make this key information available to councillors on planning committees. Because how otherwise are they supposed to judge whether any scheme is viable enough to support the aim of allowing often expensive private development to go ahead while at the same time making adequate future provision for people on lower incomes to have a decent home of their own?

So far this has been a game of smoke and mirrors with developers claiming they can barely afford to develop any given site and at the same time offer accommodation for those who may never, otherwise, ascend the housing ladder. Some attempt to justify this rather one-sided argument is made with both the developer and the council supposedly employing experts to scrutinize the viability of each scheme.

However, and it is a big caveat, it is virtually unheard of for these so-called experts to disagree with the developer. And given that the developer will never reveal all of their costings due to what is described as 'commercial confidentiality' you may feel that this whole exercise is about as robust as the average chocolate hammer.

But help is at hand. A landmark legal judgment, known as the "Clyne Decision", recently agreed that it is now considered fully in the Public Interest that developers reveal their detailed costings and profitability.

So what is the Clyne Decision? This derives from our own Jeremy Clyne, former Lib Dem Streatham Hill councillor, demanding to know what the viability figures were with regard to the huge development at Caesars/Megabowl. In this he was frustrated, delayed and overruled not only by Lambeth Council, but also by the Information Commissioner.

In the event, and without any professional legal assistance, Jeremy represented himself at an Information Tribunal and against all the odds managed to convince the Judge and her panel, thereby defeating the combined powers of the Information Commissioner and Lambeth Council which turned up in force with its legal team, head of planning and the country's go-to "expert" on viability.

Greater transparency is the only way to unlock the current unfair and one-sided game of poker that masquerades as a serious planning policy designed to allow both reasonable development and profit while making available new affordable homes for people to live in.

We can understand why developers might try hiding behind a smokescreen to prevent such disclosure but we really cannot understand how or why a local planning authority such as Lambeth would apparently collude with them.

The Clyne Decision has, at long last, brought with it some welcome fresh air to help clear away the fog.