Shake up in York open space contributions

It seems likely that there will be more openness in future about how money contributed by developers for public space improvements is used.

A report to a meeting taking place next week proposes that a list of monies available will be updated on the Councils web site each month.

This is a welcome proposal.

The Town and Country Planning Acts created the ability for Local Authorities to seek a payment from developers in lieu of providing children’s play space, amenity space and sports pitches within new housing developments. This is commonly known as a s.106 payment.

How the payments are used has been shrouded in secrecy for years. In the past some were even syphoned off to help private member’s sports clubs.

One area of concern is the threat that local public spaces will have lower maintenance standards in future.  This concern is likely to be heightened by a reference in the new policy that the S106 funds will be concentrated on “the development of more ward based green space maintenance and care”. 

Land near Acomb Library which could be improved. Click to enlarge

Land near Acomb Library which could be improved. Click to enlarge

If the Council hopes that local residents will clean and maintain large public opens spaces, then they are kidding themselves.

The proposed policy also fails to identify the opportunity to acquire additional pieces of land for informal recreation. There are opportunities near the Westfield area which could see land – currently used for grazing – acquired for informal leisure use.

One idea is the establishment of a “country park”

The only likely significant redevelopment in the area – the former Lowfields school site – would also provide an opportunity to improve the adjacent playing fields. Similarly, the landlocked waste land to the side of the library on Front Street could be grassed over and used as a garden area.

But both require the York Council to start to actively manage its assets

NB. Section 106 payments are generally made where there is an existing or identified shortfall arising from a proposed development and it is not practical or desirable to have open space within a development (for example where developments are for individual or a small number of dwellings or where there is existing open space nearby which could be improved to accommodate the additional use from new residents). Payment is based on an approved formula related to the number of new bedrooms within the development.

York Council hoarding £2.7 million intended for public service improvements?

Contributions made by developers for affordable housing, transport, leisure and schools improvements.

The vast majority of the payments made to the York Council by builders – to offset the impact that new developments have on the demand for public services – has not been spent by the Council.

Not only have projects which would increase public service capacity not been identified there is not record of the current administration having even discussed its plans for the cash mountain.

The amounts collected include several hundred thousand pounds as contributions towards the provision of ”affordable” housing. These are commuted sums paid when a developer is unable to provide cheaper accommodation “on site”.

House building, Norfolk

Quite why the Council has simply not bought properties on the open market with this money is a mystery. It would be the quickest way of accommodating several dozen people who are currently living in poor quality accommodation.

The unused ”receipts” have led some developers to call for a “refund”.  They point out, with some justification, that if their developments had caused an increase in demand for public services, then such demand must have been satisfied when the properties were occupied.

Banking the money for over 5 years suggests that the S106 system is simply being used as an additional “tax” on development. In part it may explain the low house building numbers in the City over the last 3 years.

click to access source file

click to access source file

Now they plan to demand that the monies are returned to them.

The figures were obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

A spreadsheet showing what payments have been made and how (some) of the money has been used, can be found by clicking here.

The paper does not include some of the largest S106 payments such as that scheduled to be used to build the “Community Stadium” at Monks Cross.

Council holding £4.5 million development monies

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The York Council has banked £4.49 million in levies paid by developers in the City.

The money – obtained through section 106 contributions – was a condition of the granting of planning permission for a range of developments in the City.

It is money that must be invested in public services such as schools, transport and playgrounds to accommodate the additional demands generated by a development.

The Council has spent £2.8 million, gained from the S106 contributions, during the last 5 years.

During the same the Council has refunded £72,000 period to developers.