Torridge revamps developer contribution system to secure community funds

A stock image of cash.
-Credit: (Image: Christopher Bill, Unsplash)

A system for monitoring developers' financial contributions to communities when they secure planning permission has been overhauled in Torridge.

It comes after Torridge District Council (TDC) identified a weakness in the system that meant money wasn't being chased up and at risk of being lost altogether as it wasn't being spent within the deadline.

Section 106 agreements between planning authorities and developers are agreed when planning permissions are granted for homes and goes towards items such as affordable housing, education, recreational facilities and public transport.

But money is not spent within 10 years has to be returned to the developer.

TDC planning manager Helen Smith told the council's internal overview and scrutiny committee that a new system which included charging a monitoring fee to developers means officers are now on top of the paperwork.

The fees ranged from just over £1,000 for a rural site of one-to-five homes to nearly £9,000 for 200 or more homes. In addition, the council is introducing fees ranging from £4,000 to £6,000 for monitoring wildlife areas which are now mandatory for developments,

Since the beginning of last year £53,000 of monitoring income has been charged, which is additional income to cover the cost of officer time, including a planning manager, community engagement officer and housing delivery lead.

A temporary post was created last summer to set up the system and help input data and this would be repeated this summer to enhance the system at a cost of around £7,000, part-funded by monitoring fees.

Mrs Smith said this year's work would link the system with other parts of the council to share data making it less labour intensive.

The new process meant that officers would invoice developers at the right stage of construction, such as commencement or when a certain number of homes are occupied

"Sadly it doesn't always work that developers proactively asked to be invoiced, so this new monitoring makes sure we can be getting the money as soon as it is due to us," she said.

Since the new system was introduced, £368,000 had been invoiced and historic cases chased up and money received including from a development at Buckleigh Road, Bideford which went back over several years.

The officer said it had been a huge success and positive feedback had been received from an internal audit but there was always things that could be done better.

She said some of section 106 money had been hanging around for a long time and added: "We cannot allow that to get to the payback trigger point."

"We are keen to have earlier involvement with ward members and parish councils and the community engagement officer at the pre-application stage but also to look more generally at projects and aspirations for parish and town councils

"It just helps when the developers come forward and we can join it all up. Once the money comes in we can then spend it as soon as possible on what is needed."

She said the council wanted to understand what its communities wanted and make sure that development was providing for it.

Committee chair Cllr Simon Newton said: "That looks like a success story. You have identified a weakness in our system and created a process of effective monitoring.

Now as a result we are not only seeing rewards financially but more importantly seeing rewards from a transparency and access point of view so people can see whether money is being spent and when it's due to be spent.

"Getting people to spend money is the most difficult thing in the world, it is remarkable there will be money sat there, allocated for projects, and you can't find people to spend it. Hopefully this system will increase awareness and make people bids and thinking as to how they are going to spend money more timely and active."

The committee was told that it was still trying to recruit a housing delivery officer who would be key to looking at all the housing needs of the district within the section 106 process.