[JG1] Item 6.2
North Somerset Council
That the Strategic Planning and Economic Development and the Finance and Performance Policy and Scrutiny Panels agree the further responses to the recommendations of the Working Group as set out below[J2]
1. Summary of Report
The Working [J3] Group had submitted 11 recommendations in respect of Section 106 agreements and these recommendations together with the Executive Member response were reported to the Panel in March and the recommendations were endorsed. A copy of that report is at appendix 1 which sets out the original recommendations and the Executive Member response.
The Working Group met at the end of May and commented further upon the response to their recommendations. This report comprises Executive Member comments upon those further recommendations as set out in section 3 below .
Section 106 agreements derive from legislation and national guidance. At local level the finance and other assets procured from agreements assist in achieving sustainable development providing for the needs of the growing community and therefore make a significant contribution towards the Councils goals as set out in the Corporate and Directorate Business Plans.
The North Somerset Replacement Local Plan contains policies to support the use of s106 agreements including –
GDP5 – contributions for infrastructure and other planning requirements securing mitigation
GDP6 – future use and management of land
H4 - affordable housing
CF/1 – contributions for cultural and community facilities[J4]
ECH11 – bio-diversity – off site compensation for habitat loss
T10 – transport – safety, traffic and provision of infrastructure services
Nationally it is likely that a ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ will be introduced from spring 2009. This levy, which will be discretionary, will work beside an amended s106 regime and mirrors the work already being developed in Weston-super-Mare. Essentially the levy requires a Local Authority to identify the infrastructure it requires to meet the development programme set out in its Development Plan documents, to cost it and hence identify the rate to be charged per dwelling and unit of commercial space. This will have major implications for the way in which these matters are dealt with
The Working Group recommendations are as set out in the March 2008 report attached which also includes the Executive first response
Working Group recommendation 1 – comment upon Executive response:
1. It is agreed that proposals in recommendation 8 will fulfil the requirement as stated in recommendation 1.
Further Executive response – noted and agreed
2. The Working Group feel transparency and greater flexibility of 106 agreements should be an aim of North Somerset Council.
Further Executive response – noted and agreed that we continue to strive to be as open as possible and build in as much flexibility as possible but with recognition of the constraints that the Council operate under as previously described.
3. Future Section 106 agreements should include a system to include officer involvement so that agreements can be more efficiently expedited.
Further Executive response - officers from all service areas are involved at an early stage during the processing of a planning application – indeed before that at pre-application stage. In respect of Member involvement it has already been acknowledged and agreed that local Members will be briefed upon proposals at the pre-application stage. This will provide the necessary and valuable input to enable Officers to negotiate the terms of an agreement taking local concerns into account.
4. Appropriate stakeholders and other community groups should be included along with Parish and Town Councils during consultation periods.
Further Executive response – it is agreed that groups must be involved but in a structured way ensuring the groups feed into the Parish Plans working with Town and Parish Councils. This will lead to a co-ordinated assessment of community needs. The Council will then need to determine whether these needs can be legitimately met via a section 106 agreement.
5. It is agreed that it is not possible to commit officers to attend all meetings with Parish and Town Councils and the wider groups. There is a need to discriminate between ‘the big hitters’ against the rest.
Further Executive response – noted
6. We are pleased that Area Committees are now advised of head of terms but the Working Group would like to monitor the reports for quality and consistency.
Further Executive response – I will consider arrangements whereby reports involving section 106 agreement issues can be copied to a file to be made available to the Working Group. I would propose that 6 monthly reports would be appropriate
7. Quarterly Area Committee reports should commence with immediate effect.
Further Executive response – as previously agreed this can be done and will commence at the November Committees
Working Group recommendation 2 – comment upon Executive response:
1. We note the comment that presentations should be given when the tariff system begins but as the exact timing of the introduction of the tariff system is not yet known, we feel time is of the essence and presentations to Town and Parish Councils should continue with immediate effect (resources permitting).
Further Executive response - a ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ (CIL) nationally is envisaged and the Governments intention is that this will become available to Local Authorities by spring 2009. It will be discretionary but assuming North Somerset Council will wish to adopt CIL it will have profound implications upon the way in which the ‘planning gain’ process works. It does seem logical for presentations to take place after that stage. Meanwhile if particular Councils have concerns then, as has already happened, a positive response will be forthcoming but in the context that there is only one Officer available for this role
1. It is suggested that Local Area Agreements should be utilised.
Further Executive response - detailed proposals need to be developed to determine what value this would have in the overall process
Working Group recommendation 3 – comment upon Executive response:
1. The Working Group feels that ‘producing a plain English version’ has been misunderstood and therefore recommend that an executive summary in plain English is essential for the lay-person to digest when viewing a Section 106 agreement. It is felt the planning officer would be the most obvious person to write the summary in plain English. The summary should be no more that a single A4 sheet.
Further Executive response – an Executive summary is possible and it is proposed that the Case Officer produce this following completion of an agreement , to be reported to the Area Committees. This will be no more than a digest of the main obligations. As suggested this will be one side of A4 for all but those agreements dealing with major projects.
Working Group recommendation 4 – comment upon Executive response:
1. Members of the Working Group are very pleased with the work being undertaken by officers and are looking forward to seeing the project going live in approximately 6 months time. Officers and Members will be able to use the database to monitor the progress of current Section 106 agreements and look back at past agreements.
Further Executive response – noted. The database is now fully operational technically and is presently being populated with data. Once details of agreements from 2006, 2007 and 2008 are installed the database will be made available
Working Group recommendation 5 – comment upon Executive response:
Working Group recommendation 6 – comment upon Executive response:
1. The Working Group considers the production of status management reports to be essential for a better understanding of Section 106 and for improved communications on the subject.
Further Executive response – the database will enable standard reports to be produced including –
1 Income received by ward/parish and topic
2 Income due by ward/parish and topic
3 Income spent by ward/parish and topic
5 Affordable housing
6 Dates for paying back contributions
7 Contributions secured within completed agreements
8 Agreements requiring bonds
9 Agreements requiring land transfer
2. There has to be a minimum level of information available to Area Committees in order for the reports to have any value, if this can be achieved on “the basis of simple flag up of current schemes and progress”, fine but the Working Group would like to evaluate the first reports to ascertain value to users.
Further Executive response – it is agreed that first reports should be monitored for their suitability. The Working Group has understandable concern regarding knowledge of expiry dates (risk of repaying contributions) As listed above it will be seen that one of the standard reports deals with this.
3. Quarterly reports should be produced.
Further Executive response – noted and agreed
3. Confirmation of a start date required as well please?
Further Executive response – the effective start date for an agreement in terms of triggering obligations is often commencement of development rather than the date of the agreement. The database will allow commencements to be reported upon.
Working Group recommendation 7 – comment upon Executive response:
1. The Working Group did not or would not consider any database as a “panacea”, we do however consider an accurate database as bridging knowledge gaps that could save considerable time and resources in the future.
Further Executive response – noted
2. The Working Group have not suggested that the Council is able to change agreements but we are recommending investigating the opportunities to approach developers where an existing agreement may no longer be in the best interest of the local community for reasons of time lapses and/or change in local circumstances. This could also be described as ascertaining whether individual agreements are fit for purpose.
Further Executive response – It is felt that this is done now to the extent that the regime allows. Caution is appropriate since to invite the parties to an agreement to allow a contribution to be used for something else is to incite a request for the obligation to be withdrawn. Notwithstanding this the aim of the Working Group is very logical in principle and Officers will review the relevance of a contribution at the time of invoicing to determine whether such an approach is relevant in the individual circumstances.
Working Group recommendation 8 – comment upon Executive response:
1. This item is covered in recommendation 1.
Further Executive response – noted
Working Group recommendation 9 – comment upon Executive response:
1. The Working Group feels that this is an area that requires improvement in the current process.
2. Each new Section106 agreement should consider the ‘total package’ to potentially find solutions to staff shortages.
3. We recommend developing criteria by which we should review and monitor on-costs relating to resource levies.
Further Executive response – agreed and the present ‘monitoring and supervision fee’ of 15% of the planning application fee will be reviewed to determine whether there is a greater income generating option. For example Swindon adopt a 5% of each contribution approach. This will need to be part of the Implementation Supplementary Planning Document upon which work has just commenced
Working Group recommendation 10 – comment upon Executive response:
Working Group recommendation 11 – comment upon Executive response:
There is now estimated to be approximately £14.5 million in current Section 106 agreements across the District, this does not include interest accrued during this financial year which could amount to a further £200K. The Working Group considers its work on the subject of S106 agreements to be ongoing and not restricted to this report. It is our aim to keep an eye on the Section 106 process as our recommendations are put in to place.
We are reliably informed that the new database will be going live in approximately 6 months time. We wish however to set a target date for the implementation of this new database of September 2008. We recommend that the working group monitor the introduction and implementation of this exciting new development within North Somerset Council and at six monthly intervals thereafter.
Further Executive response – please see the comments at recommendation 4 above
5. Financial Implications
S106 agreements have major financial implications. Over £8.6m in contributions are currently held with a further sum in excess of £6.6m due from completed agreements[J6]
(these are capital receipts only, in addition there are contributions for maintenance)
6. Equality Implications
7. Corporate Implications
8. Options considered
[JG1]To switch the display of comments off select View/Markup
[J2]The Recommendation must be clear and complete in itself, so it can be understood without needing cross reference to another document, and can be copied directly into the minutes.
[J3]Make a clear, brief statement summarising the decision or action needed, eg. “to decide/adopt/amend”
[J4]Summarise the part of the Corporate Plan, Directorate Business Plan or other plan or policy document that supports the report.
[J5]Summarise who has been consulted internally and externally eg., statutory, trades union, parish councils, ward members, other. List response received.
[J6]Give the revenue and capital cost of the proposal, and whether it is in addition to existing approved budget.
[J7]State any implications for equality in either employment or service provision. Consider how your report could affect sections of the community in terms of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or other belief, age, social exclusion and other groups.
[J8]List any cross service implications, eg for Children, Sustainability, Legal, Human Resources, Property, Human Rights, Proportionality, Crime and Disorder, etc. and include comments on any which are relevant.
[J9]List all other options which have been considered in making the recommendation, with a brief explanation of why they have been rejected.
[J10]Give the name, job title and telephone number of the person who actually wrote the report.
[J11]All background papers significantly used in preparing the report must be listed, together with an official departmental file reference. Directors are responsible for ensuring that background papers can be accessed by the public for up to six years.