We ask Tunbridge Wells council: How was £500,000 agreed in ‘sweetener’ fees for cinema site

We ask Tunbridge Wells council: How was £500,000 agreed in 'sweetener' fees for cinema site

THE company developing the former ABC cinema site will hand over at least £500,000 to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] once the paperwork is finalised.

It will all happen under something called a Section 106 agreement, as reported in the Times last week.

Altitude, the developer, is expected to start work on £80million project The Belvedere at the end of this year or in early 2019, which would be later than originally stated.

It will take around two and a half years to build and will include shops, restaurants, a boutique Everyman cinema and at least 99 homes, with either ten more properties or a medical centre to be added on.

Section 106 agreements are viewed by some as a ‘sweetener’ to encourage planning authorities to look kindly on applications. There is no suggestion that rules are being abused or broken through the use of a Section 106.

Members of the TWBC’s Planning Committee voted in favour of passing the then proposed development in a meeting in October last year.

Planning documents, published in the Times last week, showed that Altitude will pay £501,693.41 if the medical centre is chosen.

The developer would pay £601,035 if extra housing is given the nod. Some councillors raised concerns that no affordable housing was on offer within The Belvedere.

To find out how the process works the Times put a series of questions to TWBC. The full questions and answers are published below and are unedited.

What is the purpose of 106 agreements?

A Section 106 agreement or planning obligation/planning contribution helps to mitigate the impact of an unacceptable development to make it acceptable in planning terms.

The need for contributions will sometimes be identified in particular planning policies, and sometimes become apparent through the consideration of a planning application.

This can be illustrated in relation to primary school places. Additional homes can result in a need for additional school places. A contribution can fund these additional school places, for example through an extension to a local school.

To be acceptable contributions must meet a series of tests which are set out in national policy and legislation.

A Section 106 agreement can also be used to ensure that other non-financial elements of a proposal are delivered at certain times.

What is the formula for reaching the figure of payment?

It varies depending on the reason for the contribution, but will be based on accurate costings and an identification of how much impact a particular development will have. This is dependent on the site location and type of the development proposed.

Using the example of impact on school places, Kent County Council [KCC] as the education authority has detailed information as to existing and future capacity at schools, the consequential additional school places that will be needed as a result of a development, and the cost of providing those places, for example by extending a school.

Who decides on what the money should be spent?

A consultee such as KCC or the NHS or an internal department in the Council will advise the level of contribution required, and indicate the projects that the contribution would be spent on. TWBC officers will check this against the relevant national policy and legislative tests. Only if the contribution is considered to comply with the tests that the Planning Committee is advised that this should be secured through the Section 106 agreement.

What criteria is used in deciding who gets the money?

As above, contributions must meet the relevant tests. TWBC secures the contributions and will then pass them on when appropriate to the relevant service (e.g. KCC as the education authority).

If the cinema site had included affordable housing would 106 payments still be liable?

TWBC affordable housing policy sets out that if it is demonstrated that a proposal is not deliverable for viability reasons, then a reduced (or nil) level of affordable housing will be negotiated. This will need to be demonstrated by the submission of a viability assessment, which is subject to review by the Council’s retained independent viability consultants.

This was the case at the former cinema site: this is explained in the report presented to the Planning Committee:


However, Local Plan policy does not include the same provisions in relation to other contributions. This has the effect that, in practice, where there are demonstrable viability issues on a development that other Section 106 contributions are generally secured ahead affordable housing. This matter will be reviewed by the Council as part of the new Local Plan.

No affordable housing has been provided so why was the money not put towards supporting affordable housing in some shape or form?

Please see above.

Would you accept that many might see 106 as ‘incentives’ for a council to pass contentious planning applications?

Each and every contribution must past the national policy and legislative tests. Officers have provided training to the Planning Committee so that the Members understand that contributions can only be secured to mitigate the impact of development, and must pass the relevant tests. The Committee and Delegated reports on planning applications also reflect this.

Finally, will the Civic Complex development attract Section 106 monies?

Potentially. It will be dependent on the impact of the proposal. This assessment will take place if a planning application is submitted.

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