Published: 08:22, 26 June 2019
| Updated: 10:17, 26 June 2019
Maidstone council's planning department has been criticised again.
Building surveyor Robert Sinclair said the council's preference for seeking mitigation payments from developers through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) rather than the more traditional "Section 106" payments was putting the provision of vital community infrastructure at risk.
CIL payments are a levy calculated according to the size of the development, which go into the borough council's coffers for general infrastructure improvements.
Section 106 payments are more specifically calculated according to the extra pressures on the community created by the proposed development and are allocated to particular projects: so much for a new school, so much for a library, so much towards highways measures etc.
Maidstone council adopted the CIL system on October 1 last year and it has its advantages.
It enables money from many developments to be totalled together to achieve a major infrastructure improvement that would not be possible from a single scheme.
Under present rules, the borough is only allowed to apply Section 106 payments from five developments towards a single project.
That was exactly the argument used by the borough's head of planning Rob Jarman, when members of the planning committee considered an application for 53 homes on land west of Loder Close in Lenham.
Speaking against requests from KCC's education department and Lenham Parish Council that a £159,000 contribution be secured from the developers towards an expansion of Lenham Primary School through a Section 106 agreement, Mr Jarman said: "Lenham is due to take 1,000 homes across a mosaic of sites, of which this scheme is likely to be the smallest. It defies logic that you would count one of the smallest sites in those five."
But new legislation already laid before Parliament and due to come into effect from September 1 will remove the restriction of limiting the pooling of Section 106 contributions to just five projects.
By the time the other Lenham developments come before the planning committee the restriction of five projects will no longer apply.
Mr Sinclair said: "Officers are there to advise members, yet the chief planning officer omitted to advise members of the planning committee that the pooling limitation is programmed to be dropped.
"There is a real concern that Maidstone council is ignoring the local community.
"The recent secret debate - as highlighted in the KM - held in respect of the results of the call for sites has caused real concern that Maidstone council has a secret agenda that will result in more development in places such as Lenham in excess of the Local Plan allocations."
Mr Sinclair said: "By linking the developer's contribution to CIL, there is a concern that there may not be sufficient funds for the school that the Lenham Neighbourhood Plan and KCC have identified as essential."
Maidstone council said: "The planning committee is a regulatory committee and must apply the relevant policies at the time of a decision.
"In this case, our Infrastructure Delivery Plan states that developer contributions in Lenham will be dealt with via the Community Infrastructure Levy rather than via a Section 106 legal agreement.
“One (but not the only) reason for this is that it is anticipated that, at least, seven sites will come forward and this is above the current ‘pooling’ limit of five Section 106 agreements and, moreover, the Loder Close development is likely to be the smallest.
“Planning decisions have to be taken in the present rather than in a potential future.”
However, it was at the same meeting and for the same planning application that councillors were misled into believing that Kent Police had raised no concerns over the location of a play area.
In fact, the location of the play area was altered during the application process and Kent Police were not informed of the new positioning close to existing residential homes. When they did become aware of it, the police objected, but that was after councillors had approved the permission.
Mr Sinclair of Forge Lane, Leeds, said: "The fact that Maidstone council did not consult the police correctly is a further example of officers providing incorrect advice to members.
"However, it is not too late. A planning committee decision is a resolution to grant permission. Permission is only granted when the decision notice is issued."
*The planning application reference is 18/506657