Agenda item

Strategic Planning

To consider the attached report.


4.1       Simon Excell, Assistant Director for Planning and Economic Development, presented this report. Members noted the following:

·         Since 2013 when the Regional Strategy for the South West was revoked and in the absence of any further national legislation, district councils have had the statutory responsibility for land use planning in their areas.

·         Tewkesbury Borough Council (TBC), Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) and Gloucester City Council (GlosCC) took the decision to adopt a Joint Core Strategy in 2017, which would soon be replaced by the Joint Strategic Plan (although this was proving to be a lengthy process to date).

·         Cotswold District Council (CDC) adopted their Local Plan in August 2018, Forest of Dean District Council (FODDC) adopted their Local Plan in 2012 and Stroud District Council (SDC) adopted their Local Plan in 2015. All of these were currently being reviewed.

·         Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) had a number of statutory roles and responsibility in relation to planning. It was required to produce various plans such as the Local Transport Plan (further examples available in the written report), which meant it had an extremely important role to play, in this scenario, as the infrastructure provider for the County.

·         The district authorities determined the vast majority of planning applications and GCC was merely a statutory consultee to this process.

·         In their role as consultee however, there was unfortunately an increasing number of examples where GCC’s representations were being ignored and/or disagreed with. The report explained how this was particularly in relation to funding that would be required to deliver vital infrastructure as a result of the application being approved. Such funding should be drawn from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) contributions paid by the developers. The introduction of CIL by all district council apart from FODDC, had restricted GCC’s ability to secure S106 agreements directly from the developers to fund such infrastructure.

·         It was the opinion of officers present that GCC was losing out on tens of millions of pounds of financial contributions.

·         Figure 1 in the report outlined the value of CIL collected by each of the CIL Charging Authorities in 2019/20 and 2020/21.

·         Figure 2 showed of the funding received in Figure 1, the very small percentage of contributions that had actually being allocated (with the exception of SDC). Since implementation of CIL, GCC had not received a penny from CBC, TBC, GlosCC nor CDC.

·         Figure 3 summarised the amount of CIL retained by each district council at the end of March 2021 (data for the next financial year would be available soon). In relation to SDC, because any bid to SDC was required to be spent by the end of the financial year in question, this left GCC unable to bid for the majority of its funding needs. Instead, Expressions of Interest are invited to be made.

·         Concerning data was presented in Figures 4 and 5. They showed the trend of the amount of S106 obligations that GCC have entered into and received over the previous 6 financial years. It was very clear from the data provided the significance of CIL’s detrimental impact on GCC securing these vital funds.

·         It was updated that the amount secured by GCC for 2021/22 (which had not been available at the time this report was published) was £4.6m.

·         The introduction of CIL was likely to have a detrimental impact on district councils also being able to secure S106 monies. Developers were often seeing the two funding pots as ‘two bites of the cherry’ for local authority contributions.

·         As GCC was not a planning or CIL charging authority itself, there was very little that could be done about this decline in S106 income. It could not charge CIL itself; it could not insist district councils paid the required CIL; it could not insist they reverted back to S106 or that developers paid S106 contributions instead of/as well as CIL; and they could not insist their representations made on planning applications were adhered to. The only option available was to try and influence the district councils through making representations, along with future discussion and negotiation.

·         The JCS authorities had agreed recently to review their CIL process, this was an extremely time-consuming process however, and one that GCC again had no authority or direct influence over. The latest timeline for the CIL review was for it to be completed in 2024 at the earliest.

·         The only option available to GCC in extreme circumstances was to consider more formal legal action. GCC had recently received external legal advice and opinions available on the current situation.

·         Looking at the wider question of scope and/or appetite for a county-wide strategic planning, it was advised that all local authorities, apart from TBC, had recently signed up to a Gloucestershire Statement of Common Ground. Unfortunately, this had taken over 4 years to produce, was very watered down in terms of content and did not have unanimous sign up.

·         A county-wide strategic planning approach had recently been started in Oxfordshire, but it had been abandoned fairly quickly.


4.2       The contents of the report caused alarm and frustration for members, this was particularly so for members of the Committee who were also elected members at the various district councils, and who wanted to gain a better understanding of how it had got to this point, and how they could help find a solution.

4.3       Officers reinforced that the justification and evidence to support their comments regarding the significant amount of funding that GCC was not able to secure was outlined particularly within the data in the report. The trend in the S106 data provided clearly showed that the amount of S106 money had significantly reduced from around £20m pre-CIL to £4m this financial year just gone. This data was also against a backdrop of greater growth and inflationary costs.

4.4       It was added that the level of CIL being generated to begin with was not enough either, even if the district councils gave GCC every penny of CIL they received (which clearly was not viable or legal) it still would not be enough to cover the required infrastructure costs or make up for the lower S106 contributions.

4.5       Education colleagues at GCC were concerned that there were areas of Gloucestershire being developed without GCC being able to ensure education was provided for its future families.

4.6       The situation regarding SDCs bidding process was challenged. In response it was shared with the Committee that all major allocated planning sites in Stroud remained within the S106 regime and for applications that CIL was implemented, in 2021/22, for example, GCC received 91% of that financial year’s contributions. The member felt SDC could not have done more to assist GCC in securing as much infrastructure funding as possible.

4.7       In response, officers reiterated that SDC’s bidding process constrained GCC’s ability to bid for large infrastructure projects that would take more than a financial year to deliver. Even though, quite rightly, GCC had received the majority of CIL contributions from SDC in the last financial year, 90% of a reduced pot was still not enough to mitigate the impact of large developments.

4.8       Some members expressed their view that CIL simply was not working, and it had been a flawed system from the start. They acknowledged how tirelessly GCC officers had been working to try and secure developer contributions wherever possible.

4.9       Members also expressed how concerned they were to hear of potential legal action occurring between local authorities. The current financial situation was very hard hitting for councils across the country, not to mention if local councils began paying for legal advice and representation against each other. A Member added that Gloucestershire was in this position due to a change in national policy and because the planning system was broken. Rather than fighting amongst ourselves, pressure should be being put on Government Ministers to change the system overall.

4.10    In response officers reiterated that they had been in this declining situation for a number of years now. GCC had paid for a review of CIL for the JCS authorities, but this is taking longer than originally anticipated. Officers felt they had given everything to try and resolve this issue by working together, and if anything at this point, legal advice would at least provide an opinion on the right way forward, because at the moment, solutions had become stagnant.

4.11    Another member shared their concern over the delay in district councils reviewing and updating their own local plans, and a worrying example of CIL money being allocated to a local parish council to rectify a developer defect, which it was clearly not purposed for.

4.12    Officers confirmed that there were no national requirements to advise local authorities on how best to distribute CIL, and this had resulted in a number of county councils across the country finding themselves in the same situation, such as Hampshire County Council.

4.13    Cllr David Gray, Cabinet Member for Environment and Planning, welcomed the Committee’s discussion today in a sense that everyone was clearly in agreement that we, as a collective of local authorities, were not raising the amount of money needed to facilitate vital infrastructure. The recent Census information stated that Gloucestershire saw around an 8% increase in population between 2011 and 2021, TBC alone was the 4th fastest growing borough in the entire country. With this level of growth, it became even more important for GCC to be able to obtain substantial amounts of funding to provide the necessary infrastructure. Although the Cabinet Member acknowledged the misallocated energy spent on disagreement, this was as a result of the sheer desperation felt by GCC.

4.14    Cllr Philip Robinson, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, saw and felt the current helplessness of this situation, particularly in relation to education provision. He reiterated the difference between the two funding pots, CIL was effectively a roof tax and nonspecific, whereas S106 was infrastructure specific. This resulted in CIL being extremely limiting in comparison. The Cabinet Member reinforced that the Capital Schools programme for Gloucestershire was in a very serious situation. Areas of the county needed new schools due to population increases but the money to provide them had to come from somewhere.

4.15    A member added that it was impossible for councillors to justify to residents that their nearest school was 13 miles away because GCC were unable to provide adequate provision. This also had an indirect impact on other areas of GCC’s budget such as home to school transport.

4.16    As a result of the above discussion, several members requested sight of clear and factual examples of the district councils they represented declining/not adhering to GCC’s funding requests through planning application representations.

ACTION:       Simon Excell

4.17    There was also a request from officers for members to share with them any examples of GCC not giving representations to planning applications previously and going forward, as they would be very concerned to learn this was happening.

4.18    In terms of moving forward on this issue, the Committee unanimously agreed for the following actions to be recommended:

·         The report and minutes from this meeting to be:

o   Referred to Leadership Gloucestershire to discuss at their next meeting.

o   Shared on behalf of the Committee with all district councillors, to reinforce this Joint Committees level of concern for the ongoing situation.

·         Members of this Joint Committee, who were also district councillors, to continue this discussion with their respective district council.

·         For officers at all the involved councils to revisit discussions, work together and ultimately find a way forward in the interest of their residents.

Supporting documents: