THE PLANNING LARK

Here in West Norfolk it is difficult to understand how the situation we see in action has come into being and to ascertain who was involved in the decision making processes over the years. In this case we are referring to the legislation relating to the mitigation funds connected to new developments, namely Section 106 (S106) and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). These 2 sources of funds exist to provide different forms of compensation to communities where there is new development.
S106 funds are intended to be spent by communities on infrastructure and can be used to subsidise the provision of social housing. The CIL funds are intended to be spent by communities on the provision of services that the community wants to see delivered. S106 and CIL funds are paid by the developers according to different and variable criteria.
Both S106 and CIL funds are collected from the developers by the District Council. In West Norfolk, this means the Borough Council of Kings Lynn and West Norfolk (BCKL&WN). The Local Planning Authority (LPA) negotiates the developers’ contributions on behalf of the communities. The LPA is part of the District Council. There are many district authorities in the country that behave in an ethical and transparent manner by passing the funds collected on behalf of parishes to the parishes with guidance as to how the parishes are permitted by the law to allocate the funds on schemes of interest in the parishes. Some district authorities pass on the funds collected every 6 months.
The original intention of the legislation for S106 and CIL was that the funds would be available for communities to use on projects chosen by the electorate of those communities and voted by their elected representatives. Unlike for most parts of the country it does not work like this in West Norfolk and the funds collected by BCKL&WN either stay within BCKL&WN or are disbursed on projects selected by BCKL&WN. A sampling exercise in West Norfolk revealed that no parishes have ever received S106 funds to disburse on their preferred schemes.
For CIL the LPA officials of the BCKL&WN admit openly that they are using the CIL scheme as a mechanism to manipulate the market in order to provide developers with an improved level of profitability. This was stated in a public meeting chaired by an official from the Inspector’s Office in 2016 during which the LPA’s officer in charge of the implementation of the CIL scheme, Alan Gomm, and various members of his team repeated that they are using the manipulation of the CIL rate as a mechanism to “bring on land sellers and developers”. In every other market, this sort of overt market manipulation is a criminal act, but the legislation for CIL with reference to planning permits LPAs to bend CIL rates in order to rig prices for land and properties. By assigning a zero rate for CIL the LPA is in effect denying communities compensation for taking on the burden of new developments.
The LPA, BCKL&WN , Mr Gomm and his team have taken since 2011 to implement the CIL scheme, during which time the electorate of West Norfolk has been denied CIL funds at the rate of about £2.25 million annually, based on figures freely available in the public domain. For most District Councils it needs to take only about 3 months to vote through a CIL scheme in the way intended by the legislation. For BCKL&WN it has taken nearly 6 years, because the LPA, under the direct management of BCKL&WN, wanted a mechanism that was capable of syphoning off funds intended for the benefit of the electorate in order to attract developers, presumably to make it easier for the LPA to meet its obligations to provide a 5 year plan for housing with a smaller number of larger scale developments rather than the effort required to handle a much larger number of planning applications that cause much less damage to communities. The populace of West Norfolk has suffered for nearly 6 years to make the jobs of LPA officers easier and the populace will suffer in the future as a result of the ghastly development schemes that the LPA has dumped on us instead of supporting an organic growth approach with smaller piecemeal and infill developments using different architects, materials and builders.
If the reader is thinking that it is just about what looks suspiciously like bungs for developers, it is not as simple as this for S106 funds. The BCKL&WN policy refers also to the use of S106 funds to pay for libraries and education. However, the legislation states clearly that S106 funds can be spent only on infrastructure in the immediate community where the development is placed. Because of this geographical restriction it is never lawful to provide S106 funds to pay for mobile libraries and should not be used to subsidise County’s obligations to provide libraries. When it relates to schools it can be argued that it is acceptable to pool S106 funds collected from different developments in the area in order to pay for educational infrastructure that is to be used by the scholars from the area. The S106 legislation defines a set of rules with which disbursement must comply, one of which is relevance in terms of impact. For example, this means that the development of a retirement complex can never result in S106 funds being used for a primary school or playground equipment, but the funds could be used for a zebra crossing that is of benefit to all age groups.
It could be interpreted also that BCKL&WN is using both the S106 and CIL funds to provide backhanders to developers, according to the evidence available. For S106 funds the stated policy agreed by BCKL&WN is that part of the funds collected will be used to pay for hydrants and SUDS (drainage) when these are services that must be provided by the developer in all cases at a cost to the developer. As one can see there is a contradiction, and an interpretation is that either the LPA negotiates a bung for the developer to improve the developer’s profit margin or it makes the cash disappear into a black hole somewhere to subsidise other local government initiatives.
From the previous paragraphs it is evident that this can become complicated and explains probably why so many of the LPA officials have difficulty explaining their justifications (or are reluctant to explain their justifications) for the use of these funds in transparent terms that make sense, that appear lawful and everyone understands. It also explains why some Borough councillors at BCKL&WN continue to have problems justifying the way they vote in relation to some planning applications, probably because they have not been made aware that they are voting in support of unlawful funds disbursements, such as those described above. This sorry situation can be changed if there are changes of officers in the LPA and elected members or if the elected members are provided with proper training. However, a small number of elected members at BCKL&WN and within some parishes have demonstrated a preference to act unlawfully, who support unlawful meetings and recommends and proposes unlawful processes for other members to follow.
That being said there are some Borough Cllrs who work well and hard for the electorate. The question that remains is who makes the decisions on planning policy with regards to the S106 and CIL funds – is it the salaried functionaries in the LPA, the members of the Borough Council or some other body that has issued instructions to retain funds at Borough in order to prop up the finances? The other question is how do we discover the truth?
(West Norfolk Resident) Name and Address provided.
Editor’s note. This article raises several questions on which we, in The Village Pump editorial team, are unable to comment. We have neither the access to the details of the processes discussed nor the expertise to interpret them. We are thus unable to confirm or deny the accuracy of the article but would still welcome readers’ debate on this subject.
Alternatively, readers can get in touch with the author, through the Editor. Any one that wishes to do this is asked to provide their contact details to enable the author to contact them.

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