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Swale Borough Council coalition criticised over drop in income from planning deals

Council leaders have been criticised for a steep drop in income secured from planning agreements.

The coalition in charge of Swale Borough Council has been attacked by the opposition Conservative group for its failure to generate sufficient revenue from developers through what are known as Section 106 payments.

Swale Borough Council has been criticised for a fall in the value of financial agreements struck with developers
Swale Borough Council has been criticised for a fall in the value of financial agreements struck with developers

These financial obligations can be put in place when planning approval is given to help fund affordable housing, education and healthcare where the development has an impact on the local community.

In the year 2018/19 the total value of these deals struck by the authority from S106 obligations was £6.4million, but the 2019/20 report to be put before council's planning committee when it meets on Thursday shows this year's figure stands at just £264,925.

The coalition running the authority since May 2019 elections, led by Labour's Roger Truelove, has made delivering more affordable homes in Sittingbourne, Faversham and on Sheppey one of its top priorities.

Despite this, the report prepared for the planning committee states none of the S106 agreements signed during 2019/2020 relate to obligations for the provision of affordable housing.

James Hunt, Tory planning spokesman, said: "This report highlights the importance of financial contributions from housing developments and what it delivers.

Swale Borough Council Conservative spokesman for planning Cllr James Hunt
Swale Borough Council Conservative spokesman for planning Cllr James Hunt

"Whilst development increases the burden on services, and a lot of these financial contributions are required to mitigate that burden, planning is also a useful tool to ensure that there is a financial income to deliver what is needed in the borough now.

"The council must ensure that they get the maximum value out of negotiations to be able to deliver the priorities they have. Without it the only way to pay for what is needed is out of residents' pockets.

"Refusing housing development may seem like the right thing to do but there has to be a balance and with proper negotiation the planning system allows delivery of much needed services."

Councillor Ben J Martin, Liberal Democrat cabinet member for housing, said the drop in value of S106 deals agreed is partly down to the fact the new coalition is taking a tougher stance with developers than the previous Conservative administration.

Reiterating the coalition's commitment to delivering affordable housing for the borough, Cllr Martin pointed to an approval on May 28 for a 310-home scheme at Stones Farm, Bapchild, which he says could have around 60% affordable housing.

He said: "In the 2019/20 year there have been an awful lot of agreements that have been delayed due to Covid, with developers furloughing staff, and the council adjusting how we operate. So that's obviously curtailed some of the stuff that would have been happening towards the end of the financial year.

Swale Borough Council cabinet member for housing Cllr Ben J Martin
Swale Borough Council cabinet member for housing Cllr Ben J Martin

"We are being a little bit tougher with developers in terms of saying this is what we need in order for it to mitigate any harm that may be caused.

"We have seen since last May the committee takes a much more stringent view on what it is willing to accept. The committee won't accept planning applications which don't meet the minimum affordable housing numbers that are in the local plan policy."

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