If you assume that a property developer wheeling a barrow load of cash down to the town hall to buy a planning consent would end up in jail, think again. It is perfectly legal under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act.
To “legalised bribery” add blackmail and extortion with council planners extracting huge sums of money from developers. Again, there is nothing unlawful about that.
This dark little corner of planning law also allows cosy deals between local authorities and developers which may not always be in the public interest.
The 1990 Act states:
106 Agreements regulating development or use of land
(1) A local planning authority may enter into an agreement with any person interested in land in their area for the purpose of restricting or regulating the development or use of the land, either permanently or during such period as may be prescribed by the agreement.
(2) Any such agreement may contain such incidental and consequential provisions (including financial ones) as appear to the local planning authority to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of the agreement.
Examine any planning consent for a major construction project and you will invariably find that a Section 106 legal agreement has been hatched up between the council planners and the developer. In most cases, the developer pays money – sometimes huge amounts – for his planning consent. Ostensibly, the contribution is to offset the impact of the development on local amenities such as roads and schools.
The problem is that it is up to the developer and the planners to reach a deal and tie it up in a legal agreement. This is unsafe and open to abuse.
Developers can buy influence over ill advised projects by negotiating large financial contributions to the council’s coffers. Greedy councils can also hold cash strapped smaller developers to ransom for extortionate sums.
The financial element of Section 106 agreements should either be taken out of the hands of local planning authorities and regulated by an independent body or scrapped altogether and replaced with a transparent and uniform land development tax that could be used for local roads, schools, etc.
Why is this idea important?
Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act is regarded by some as a licence for legalised bribery and blackmail in connection with land development..
The work of local planning authorities should always be above suspicion but this piece of legislation is open to abuse both by developers and councils. It is in the public interest to replace it with a system that is above reproach.