Communities ‘Open the Book’ for Viability Assessments

Viability Assessments submitted in support of proposed developments have been widely criticised by community groups for justifying lower levels of affordable housing and/or other forms of planning gain than that required by planning policy.In consequence, several groups have sought to challenge the assumptions that underpin them, but have faced the refusal of local authorities and developers for an ‘open book’ on the grounds of an overriding need to protect commerical confidentiality, notwithstanding the public interest issues raised by these developments.Refusals of Freedom of Information requests for disclosure of critical parts of Viability Assessments have been referred by groups to the Information Commissioner’s Office for determination, and recently, they have been meeting with success.On 10 May 2014,the 35 Per Cent Campaign announced a positive result: see ” Heygate FOI appeal decision – Tribunal delivers verdict” ( http://affordable.heroku.com/blog/2014/05/10/foi-appeal-decision/ ). They write (extracts follow):
“The Information Tribunal has directed that the whole viability assessment be made public, apart from developer Lend Lease’s bespoke development model in the assessment’s final appendix and the calculations concerning retail & office space – all other information has to be disclosed. Lend Lease and Southwark have been given 28 days to supply the information Commmissioner with the information as outlined by the Tribunal’s decision notice. All parties may appeal the decision but only on a point of law”.
“The Heygate decision puts the balance of public interest with local people. Their right to information that enables them to take part in the planning process has been found to outweigh the developer’s interest in keeping information confidential”.

And on 21 May 2014, campaigners in Earl’s Court area, who had challenged the affordable housing provision in the Capco development, announced that the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea are applying to withdraw its appeal against the decision of the Information Commissioner’s Office that the Council should disclose the viability assessments. The Tribunal had been due to meet on 11-12 June. It is now expected that the Council will disclose unredacted documents to meet the requests of the community campaigners.