Manchester City Council is reviewing its policy on disclosing the financial reports of large developments in the city after coming under pressure recently over issues surrounding the lack of affordable housing being built in Manchester.
Last week it emerged that out of the almost 15,000 new homes granted planning permission in Manchester in 2016 and 2017, none were classed as affordable by the government’s definition – meaning either provided as social rented housing or privately offered for rent at 80% of the market rate.
While large developments of 16 plus units or on sites larger than 0.3 hectares are meant to include a provision for 20% affordable homes, according to the city council’s planning rules, developers can get around this by submitting confidential viability assessments to claim that providing affordable accommodation would lead to the project being too unprofitable.
Addressing the issue, Manchester council has now said that the lack of transparency around the process is going to be looked at in a consultation, with one possible measure being to publish the viability assessments rather than keep them private – meaning developers would have to show their returns forecast publicly to prove that they did not have adequate margins to provide affordable housing.
Councillor Angeliki Stogia said: “The council is currently examining how other local authorities are approaching this issue, including those which do publish viability assessments – and looking at best practice across the country, although we are aware that there have been criticisms in some cases that published assessments have been so heavily censored as to be rendered meaningless.
“We could not and would not change our policy without proper consultation with residents and other interested parties.”
She added: “We are proposing to conduct this consultation, which will include considering whether it is appropriate to publish viability assessments and how this could be best achieved, as soon as the evidence from other places has been gathered.”
Quality over affordability
However, Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital & Centric which has been involved in a number of developments in Manchester, believes that forcing developers to provide affordable housing could be detrimental to the quality of the homes being created.
He said: “Ultimately as a private sector developer the only way you can build it cheaper is to build poorer quality and what everybody is paranoid about doing, including the council, all credit to them, is to start repeating the mistakes of the 1960s. Look at Grenfell Tower and places like that.”
Rather than include affordable homes in one of its most recent Manchester developments, Capital & Centric paid a fee to the city council’s affordability fund instead.
Some councils, such as Leeds, impose a minimum percentage of affordable homes in all new developments, but Higgins commented: “Some projects won’t happen and I think inevitably the quality goes down. I would say that the quality of residential projects in Manchester is higher than most other cities in the UK.”