“We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School. Frankly,” said Mr Levy, “School is pretty bad…”
(Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall)
The government has been fine-tuning its guidance as to the extent to which developers in England should be required to fund education provision.
Serendipitously for this blog post, the High Court last month handed down judgment in Thompson v Conwy County Borough Council (Dove J, 26 March 2019). Not only does the case provide an introduction to some of the existing uncertainties, but, as is clear from Dove J’s introduction, there is a link to one of the greatest comic literary depictions of a private school:
“The site in question in relation to these proceedings is the Fair View Inn in Llanddulas. It appears that Evelyn Waugh was at one time a patron of the Fair View Inn when he taught at a nearby preparatory school. The Fair View Inn features as “Mrs Robert’s Pub” both in his diaries and also in his first novel, Decline and Fall.”
Remember that section in Decline and Fall, where Paul Pennyfeather gets sent to Llanabba Castle School in north Wales to teach subjects he knows nothing about, and his trips to Mrs Roberts’ pub with Captain Grimes? (If not, do put this blog post down and pick up D&F – much more entertaining).
One of the grounds of challenge to the grant of planning permission for residential development on the site of the Inn was that the planning committee, in approving the proposal on the basis of a commuted sum towards education provision, “were misled by inaccurate information being provided in relation to education school capacity.” It was submitted by the claimant (a representative of the campaign group Passionate about Llanddulas) that “although members were advised that the commuted sum would be used to improve existing school facilities in the near future, including the construction of a new school, the position […] is significantly different. [The claimant] contends that the position in truth is that the school in Llanddulas will remain over capacity on the basis that there is no guarantee at present that any new school would be secured through the provision of a commuted sum for education“.
The local school is indeed already oversubscribed. The education officer sought a financial contribution of £17,009, towards the costs of a new school in due course, based on approximately two additional nursery and primary pupils being added to the local school population. An internal email from the education officer was disclosed: “… we will be building a new school there in less than 5 years and the money will come in handy!”
The claimant sought to rely on correspondence from the same officer that post-dated the permission and which set out the steps that would need to be taken to secure Welsh Government funding for a new school, the outcome of which was uncertain notwithstanding confidence expressed by the officer.
Dove J unsurprisingly took the position that “the question of whether or not officers misled members should be considered on the basis of the material as known to the officers at the time of the Committee report, rather than taking account of matters that arose or came to light after the decision was reached.”
But in any event he held that what was later set out by the officer in correspondence was “not in substance different from the succinct email he sent to Ms Roberts earlier in the year, namely that the Education Section of the Defendant has it in mind to use the commuted sum towards the redevelopment of the school in Llanddulas within five years. In my view it would subject the advice that the members were given to an illegitimate and overly forensic scrutiny to suggest that it was necessary also to spell out the further statutory and administrative processes which would be required before the new school would be open for use. The issue about which members were being advised was the question of whether or not there was a legitimate objective for the commuted sum in respect of education. The advice which the members were provided with accurately reflected the view of the Education Section given by Mr Jones and did not in my judgment mislead them. I am therefore satisfied on the basis of the information which has become available since the grant of permission that the members were not misled. Thus, even were account taken of material provided after the decision the position remains the same.”
No point appears to have been expressly taken as to whether the contribution failed the regulation 122(2) test within the CIL Regulations:
“A planning obligation may only constitute a reason for granting planning permission for the development if the obligation is—
(a) necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms;
(b) directly related to the development; and
(c) irly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.”
Nor whether it offended the (soon to be abolished) pooling restriction in regulation 123.
Whilst the permission thereby survived the campaign group’s legal challenge, when you step back for a moment, the basis for requirements for contributions towards education provision, and the expensive uncertainty which developers and residents in new developments are expected to put up with, is faintly bizarre. New homes may contain children. Those children would need schooling somewhere regardless of the particular development. And yet, an application for planning permission for residential development is an opportunity that the Government pretty much requires local authorities to take in order to reduce the financial burden on the state and on direct taxation to secure financial contributions towards new and expanded schools. That cost reduces the financial viability of schemes, thereby reducing the amount affordable housing that the developer can subsidise (I’ve commented before on that logical disconnect conveniently ignored by successive Governments looking to minimise headline tax rates – so building market housing increases the amount of subsidised affordable housing that needs to be provided does it?). And, as in that Llanddulas example, where development proceeds on the basis of a financial contribution to something somewhere in the future, the developer and those who end up living in the development are at the whim of demographics and the education department’s forward planning and funds-securing nous as to whether, and where, necessary school places will become available. Rarely is the lack of available school places a reason to refuse planning permission.
But this is the policy environment.
Relevant passages in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance were amended on 15 March 2019:
“What funding is available for education?
Government provides funding to local authorities for the provision of new school places, based on forecast shortfalls in school capacity. There is also a central programme for the delivery of new free schools.
Funding is reduced however to take account of developer contributions, to avoid double funding of new school places. Government funding and delivery programmes do not replace the requirement for developer contributions in principle.
Plan makers and local authorities for education should therefore agree the most appropriate developer funding mechanisms for education, assessing the extent to which developments should be required to mitigate their direct impacts.
Paragraph: 007 Reference ID: 23b-007-20190315
Revision date: 15 03 2019
What contributions are required towards education?
Plans should support the efficient and timely creation, expansion and alteration of high-quality schools. Plans should set out the contributions expected from development. This should include contributions needed for education, based on known pupil yields from all homes where children live, along with other types of infrastructure including affordable housing.
Plan makers and decision makers should consider existing or planned/committed school capacity and whether it is sufficient to accommodate proposed development within the relevant school place planning areas. Developer contributions towards additional capacity may be required and if so this requirement should be set out in the plan. Requirements should include all school phases age 0-19 years, special educational needs (which could involve greater travel distances), and both temporary and permanent needs where relevant (such as school transport costs and temporary school provision before a permanent new school opens).
Plan makers should also consider whether pupils from planned development are likely to attend schools outside of the plan area and whether developer contributions may be required to expand schools outside of the area.
When local authorities forward-fund school places in advance of developer contributions being received, those contributions remain necessary as mitigation for the development.
Paragraph: 008 Reference ID: 23b-008-20190315
The Department for Education published some detailed guidance for local authorities on 11 April 2019 to help them in securing developer contributions for education and on the approach to education provision in garden communities.
The guidance purports not to “advise the construction/development industry on its duties or responsibilities in paying for infrastructure” or to replace or override “policy/guidance produced by other government departments“. However, if you are negotiating section 106 agreement obligations, it is essential reading.
Securing developer contributions for education sets out the following principles:
” • Housing development should mitigate its impact on community infrastructure, including schools;
• Pupil yield factors should be based on up-to-date evidence from recent housing developments;
• Developer contributions towards new school places should provide both funding for construction and land where applicable, subject to viability assessment when strategic plans are prepared and using up-to-date cost information;
• The early delivery of new schools within strategic developments should be supported where it would not undermine the viability of the school, or of existing schools in the area.”
Planning obligations should “allow enough time for developer contributions to be spent (often this is 10 years, or no time limit is specified“. But personally, I would push against such long timescales save where specifically justified!
In terms of the inter-relationship between government and developer funding:
“5. Central government basic need grant, the DfE free schools programme and other capital funding do not negate housing developers’ responsibility to mitigate the impact of their development on education. When the DfE free schools programme is delivering a new school for a development, we expect the developer to make an appropriate contribution to the cost of the project, allowing DfE to secure the school site on a peppercorn basis and make use of developer contributions towards construction. National Planning Practice Guidance explains how local planning authorities should account for development viability when planning for the provision of infrastructure.2 There should be an initial assumption that both land and funding for construction will be provided for new schools planned within housing developments
6. While basic need funding can be used for new school places that are required due to housing development, we would expect this to be the minimum amount necessary to maintain development viability, having taken into account all infrastructure requirements Where you have a reasonable expectation of developer funding being received for certain school places,3 and you have declared this in your SCAP return (or plan to do so), then basic need funding should not be considered available for those school places other than as forward funding to be reimbursed by developer contributions later.
7. There are other options besides basic need grant for forward-funding school places, including the use of local authority borrowing powers where necessary. Where developer contributions have been secured through a planning obligation, you can recoup the borrowing costs from developer contributions later, provided these costs have been incurred as a result of housing growth. Local authorities can bid for funding under government grant programmes such as the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) as they become available, while developers delivering schools directly as an ‘in kind’ contribution may be eligible for loan funding from DfE or Homes England, allowing a new school to be delivered at an earlier stage in the development than would have been possible otherwise.”
“Pupil yield factors should be based on up-to-date evidence from recent local housing developments“. DfE is working on a detailed methodology.
All new primary schools are now expected to include a nursery. There must be sufficient primary and secondary education up to the age of 19 as well as special educational needs and disabilities (SEN) provision.
The assumed cost of mainstream school places should be based on national average costs published by the DfE, adjusted to reflect regional costs differences. The cost of early years provision should be assumed as the same as primary provision. Contributions to special school provision should be set at four times the cost of a mainstream school place.
All temporary and permanent education needs should be properly addressed, including school transport costs and temporary school provision. Where appropriate, both a preferred and “contingency” school expansion project should be identified in a section 106 planning obligation.
“23. You may wish to safeguard additional land when new schools within development sites are being planned, to allow for anticipated future expansion or the reconfiguration of schools to create a single site. ‘Future-proofing’ can sometimes be achieved informally through a site layout that places open space adjacent to a school site. Where justified by forecast need for school places, additional land can be designated specifically for education use and made available for purchase by the local authority within an agreed timescale, after which the land may be developed for other uses.
24. While developers can only be expected to provide free land to meet the education need from their development, the allocation of additional land should also preclude alternative uses, enabling you to acquire the site at an appropriate cost. Land equalisation approaches can be used in multi-phase developments to ensure the development ‘hosting’ a new school (and any additional safeguarded land) is not disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the market price for the land will depend on its permissible uses. Land allocated for educational use in a local plan would usually have no prospect of achieving planning permission for any other uses. Independent land valuation may be required to establish an acquisition cost. National Planning Practice Guidance provides advice on land valuation for the purposes of viability assessment.”
(There are elements of paragraphs 23 and 24 with which I would take issue or which may be too generally expressed. For example, if the reservation of additional land for a school (or for further forms of entry to an existing school) and the need for those additional school places is not generated by the development within which the land is situated, why should that land not be acquired at the development value it would otherwise have enjoyed?).
The guidance annexes advice on compliance with state aid and public procurement legislation.
There is specific guidance on strategic developments and new settlements (with more detailed separate guidance on garden communities), including on multiple phase school provision, the timing of provision and use of viability review mechanisms where the initial education contribution has been reduced on viability grounds.
Whether your education contribution is in the low tens of thousands of pounds as per the Llanddulas case or in the low tens of millions of pounds, as may be the case with a new settlement, arriving at efficient, practical solutions is key. Travelling optimistically, let us hope that the new guidance will assist in arriving at those solutions, rather than encouraging authorities to add to the current list of requests.
Simon Ricketts, 13 April 2019
Personal views, et cetera