What happens to S106 money?
In all my discussions with local community groups, Parish Councils and local residents one of the single biggest complaints about the planning system is that there doesn't seem to be any direct accountability between S106 payments, which are collected by local planning authorities, and how they translate into tangible benefits for the local communities.
It seems to me that it would be really helpful to all concerned if there was a transparent and accountable system so that landowners, developers and indeed potential beneficiaries of S106 contributions are able to track payments that have been made and how they have been spent. I'm sure that you will agree that accountability in these matters is of course in the public interest and would inspire confidence in the collection and use of S106 contributions. Indeed, one of the primary concerns expressed by local communities about local development is that there appears to be insufficient physical or social infrastructure to mitigate the impact of new development.
Development schemes are making significant financial contributions and it should therefore be a matter of public record as to when and how the money is collected and spent. If there was a transparent and accessible record of these contributions and related spending it would not only improve public perception of planning as a force for good, but would also help to alleviate concerns of local communities and potentially create a more accessible interface for a more focused use of monies generated by the development system.
A recent example has been drawn to my attention in Kent whereby a village has seen some 600 new dwellings constructed and the amount of S106 money collected is £3.6million. However to date over two thirds of the money remains unspent.
Under the changes to Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations, which came into force on 1 September 2019, S106 contributions have to be published by all Local Planning Authorities, stating how much they have received and how they spent it. However this does not come into force until December 2020 and only requires them to state what the contributions were and how they spent it but there is no requirement to spend the money, which is fundamentally the key issue. Most Section 106 agreements enable Local Planning Authorities to use the money within 5 or 10 years. Perhaps this is too long a period and should be much shorter.
The planning system therefore needs to be far more proactive and responsive, and indeed transparent because as currently practiced the system undermines the purpose for which the monies are collected in the first place.
I am aware that some Local Planning Authorities are currently trying to improve the system and I have also raised this with the Kent Developers Group. However, if you would like to contribute to the discussion I would be pleased to hear from you.