Planning reform will hit community sites

When the previous Government revealed its plans for the Community Infrastructure Levy - an optional charge that local authorities can levy on new developments to pay for infrastructure - many in the green space community hoped that they could use it, in cash-starved times, to lobby for funds for local green space provision.

The problem - as the Landscape Institute has highlighted powerfully in its response to a consultation begun under the previous administration on changes to the planning obligations system - is that in their rush to clarify "appropriate use" of such obligations, the policy wonks at Communities and Local Government (CLG) have succeeded in wiping out a critical source of income for the maintenance of public green space (see Revamp of section 106 threatens projects). And this at a time when green space managers are facing a financial double whammy from the coming cuts to local authority grants and the coalition Government's decision to freeze council tax.

CLG's consultation paper on the proposed changes to the workings of planning obligations explicitly rules out the use of a planning obligation - or section 106 agreement - for the cost of maintenance of any asset intended for "wider public use". The change is part of a general tightening of uses for section 106 agreements in order to avoid duplication with the new levy. However, the levy also rules out raising monies for maintenance.

There is little doubt among those with long experience of working with section 106 that it will be the smaller, local green spaces that will be hit hardest because, in the absence of any other funding streams, this is where local authorities have focused 106 spend.

The irony won't be lost on the authors of research published by CABE Space this week that highlights the pre-eminent role that local neighbourhood parks play in the lives of communities and the catastrophic impact on use that failure to adequately fund and maintain always has (see p6).

The coalition Government has yet to indicate where it stands on these latest changes to the planning system. That at least gives the green space sector a chance to join the Landscape Institute in its call for ministers to reject these potentially devastating proposals.

- Kate Lowe, editor. Email: kate.lowe@haymarket.com

- www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/leader for recent leaders


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