Viability reports for Covent Garden and Riverside House have been made publicly available
The applications for planning permission on the Riverside House site for housing and on Covent Garden for the erection of the District Council offices, housing and the replacement the car park did not propose any provision for affordable Housing.
Normally the Local Planning Authority would seek 40% of homes in planning applications of more than 11 dwellings to be affordable. However, the policy in the agreed Local Plan does allow applicants to vary from this requirement if they can show that the scheme is not financially viable if affordable housing at the required levels is allowed in the development. In those circumstances the Local Planning Authority requires the applicant to submit a detailed viability assessment on a confidential basis. Planning Officers then seek an independent expert assessment of the viability case to allow the Planning Committee to consider the issue as part of their overall consideration of the application.
In this case this information was provided by the applicant in the usual confidential manner and a separate independent report commissioned by the Local Planning Authority. Both reports were presented to the Planning Committee as part of their consideration of the applications. After due consideration of those reports the Planning Committee was satisfied by the viability assessments presented to them and agreed that these demonstrated that planning permission should be granted without the normal requirement for affordable housing. This was an independent decision of the Committee. However, the Planning Committee also agreed that their approval was subject to the Section 106 Agreement requiring the viability assessment for the Riverside House site to be re-assessed when the development is underway and, if this new assessment demonstrated that the viability position had improved then the applicant would be liable to make an affordable housing contribution.
No one else (including the Council’s Executive members) other than the members of the Planning Committee and the relevant Planning Officers had access to the confidential viability assessment information as it has been the standard practice to observe and respect the commercial confidentiality requested by any applicants which is often inherent in such reports on financial viability.
However, since the Planning Committee’s decision, requests have since been received for those reports to be made public. The Council’s Monitoring Officer, after taking advice, initially felt it not in the public interest to reveal that information but subsequently sought Counsel’s advice. Based on that additional advice the Monitoring Officer felt that the information should be released to those requesting it and more broadly made available on the Council’s website on the HQ relocation page.
Councillor Andrew Mobbs, Leader of Warwick District Council commented:
“This step will enable everyone to see both the case made by the applicant and the independent professional advice that was considered by the Planning Committee in making their decision. In addition, the advice now received has prompted the Council to start a review of its policy of how it treats the confidentiality of financial viability reports at Planning Committee.”