IN FULL: Royal Borough responds to Fair Funding campaigners' questions

IN FULL: Royal Borough responds to Fair Funding campaigners' questions

Tom Roddy

IN FULL: Royal Borough responds to Fair Funding campaigners' questions
Alison Alexander

The Royal Borough has responded to outstanding questions issued by Fair Funding campaigners.

The group handed a list of questions regarding the council's decision to award £480,000 of developer funding to Holyport College at a public meeting on Monday, September 14.

On Wednesday afternoon, campaigners received the following in response from director of children's services and managing director Alison Alexander:

"I note that many of the questions in your letter are ones that the borough has previously answered, in the document I attach for ease, along with the link. 'Process for allocation of finance in relation to planning application number 14/03765'.

1. Why had RBWM failed to introduce CIL [the Community Infrastructure Levy]? Isn’t it the case that under CIL, funding can still be pooled?

The borough is moving towards implementing the CIL, having carried out the first round of consultation on the draft charging schedule, CIL rates, earlier this year. The second round of consultation is due to take place in September.

The second part of your question, the pooling of funding under CIL, is answered in the ‘process’ document, at question 27.

2. Who decided that S106 funding from Stafferton Way should be 'one project' only?

Discussions took place between the Development Control Manager, Case Officer and S106 Officer. Officers considered: whether the contributions requested would meet the Community Infrastructure legislation tests for S106 contributions; legal advice on pooling; appeal decisions from the Planning Inspectorate; and the position of developers. Children’s Services were asked to identify one specific project.

3. Why was this subsequently changed to two projects (one fully funded, one part funded)?

Please see the response to previous question, paragraph 4.1.

4. Who decided that the main project to be funded would be Holyport College? Specifically who made this decision and on what date?

For clarity, the persons involved in the decision were: Alison Alexander (the Director of Children’s Services) and Cllr Phillip Bicknell (Lead Member for Education).See attached letter paragraphs 1.6 to 3.1, and the answer to question 20.

5. Please disclose Counsel’s opinion on this matter.

The Royal Borough has not sought Counsel’s opinion on any aspect of the Stafferton Way planning application.

6. Please confirm that there were no formal meetings between Harrow Estates and RBWM on the S106 agreement.

There were no formal meetings between the two parties on the S106 agreement.

7. Please provide copies of the annual monitor reports for RBWM since 2009/10.

The borough’s S106 monitoring reports, which cover S106 receipts and expenditure, can be found on the borough’s website. Cabinet, on Thursday 24th September 2015, is considering the annual S106 Income and Expenditure Report 2014-2015, which can be accessed through the link here.

8. Do you accept that Asset Management Plans for Academies were likely out of date? Do you accept that you (RBWM) don’t ask Academies to provide them anymore? How hard would it have been to have emailed all the schools covered by the original S106 proposal? Can you confirm if RBWM now (or at the time) holds Asset Management Plans for ALL schools?

The borough usually asks, on an annual basis, schools for an Asset Management Plans. These are held by the council. Schools chose when and how to update their AMP. How up-to-date the Asset Management Plan held by the council for a school is depends on a school has sent the borough.

With regard to including all the original schools in the 6th March 2015 email requesting details of eligible project.

9. Why didn’t you email all schools that had originally been identified by officers under the old S106 proposals? Why did that list change from Table 1 to Table 2?

The initial view from officers was that the schools listed in Table 2 (Oldfield, Braywick, St Luke’s, Riverside, Holyport Primary, Holyport College, Desborough) were the only ones relevant to the development. On reflection, that initial view was then changed to include the remaining secondary schools (Altwood, Cox Green, Furze Platt and Newlands).

10. How can you be satisfied that the £480k will be used for the purpose specified, rather than to solve initial build problems for Holyport College (which it appears is not fit for purpose)?

The legal agreement covering the Stafferton Way development clearly commits the education developer contributions to the changing room and kitchen expansion projects. The school will not be given the money by the borough to fund any other project. This is standard practice for all education S106 in RBWM, where schools have been reimbursed after a compliant project has been completed.

S106 developer contributions cannot be spent on solely remedying an existing deficiency, but they can be spent on remedying a deficiency that would be made worse by the impact of the development.

11. Why wasn’t this matter subject to scrutiny – councillors also seem to accept this was incorrect – what is the budgetary limit after which scrutiny is automatic?

There is no financial or budgetary trigger for an issue to be considered by Overview and Scrutiny. The Overview and Scrutiny panels consider all papers that go to Cabinet.

12. Do you stand by the methodology used by Cllr Dudley to state that HC is the most popular – using first preferences as a % of PAN will inevitably skew the to the variable with the lowest base? Has this methodology been used before? Is it an accepted method adopted by the education committee? Is this the first time it has been used?

When considering distribution of S106 resource oversubscription is not taken into account.

The new secondary expansion criteria include oversubscription. The secondary expansion criteria will not be used for distribution of S106 resource.

The methodology used for 1st preferences was developed by officers for use in the secondary expansion.

13. Why has the money been guaranteed up front from taxpayers money – Holyport College currently has 260 pupils and was built to a capacity specification of 500[?]. The College would not reach its PAN of 500 until September 2018 so shouldn’t need urgent expansion prior to that date.

This expansion, which will in time provide places for an additional 48 pupils overall, enables the school to admit children into Years 7, 8, 10 and 11 with effect from this September. This increase in capacity is therefore with effect from the new academic year which began in September 2015, and to enable these places to be made available the School needed to confirm if the funding for the increased facilities was available.

The decision to approve the funding was taken by Council on 28th April 2015. The Capital Programme Budget Amendments report states, at paragraph 2.8 that “the scheme will need to be funded from other capital resources until such time as the S106 contribution is received” and, in the risks identified in Section 8 that if the proposed Stafferton Way scheme did not go ahead “capital funding would remain as funded from other sources”. The report’s recommendations were passed unanimously, indicating clear support for the earliest expansion of the school, whether funded by S106 or by other funds.

There is an increase in the number of places available immediately, supporting the Borough’s ambitions to increase popular schools. The cost of providing revised accommodation will only increase, whilst the developer contribution will remain at £480k.

14. On how many previous occasions had Holyport College approached RBWM seeking S106 funding? On what dates? What sums were sought and for what purpose?

S106 developer contributions have been collected on behalf of Holyport College since the school opened in September 2014. The sums identified for Holyport College were based on the then current formula for calculating S106 contributions, as they were for all other schools.

Only a small number of planning applications were processed in the period from Autumn 2014 to the ending of those arrangements in 2015. Excluding the Stafferton Way agreement, seventeen legal agreements worth £9,274.09 for projects at Holyport College have been signed.

15. Why didn’t all the money go to Furze Platt Senior School for the Science block project – a £900k costed project with detailed plans, in a school where expansion had been approved by Cabinet, in line with expectations of funding under old S106 rules and giving RBWM [the] largest development contributions possible (in line with RBWM strategic priority)?

The borough considered schemes for each school, as noted in my answer to question 4 above, and agreed that Holyport College should be prioritised.

At the point of the decision about Stafferton Way, the proposed expansion of Furze Platt Senior School had already been put on hold following the “Requires Improvement” Ofsted judgement in February 2015. The school no longer met the criteria set down by Cabinet for enlargement as part of the borough’s strategic expansion programme.

The decision to award the Stafferton Way funds to Holyport College does not mean that projects at other schools will not go ahead. At the time it was not considered possible to achieve a £900K contribution from the Harrow Estates planning application under the revised Developer Contributions arranghements.

16. How is the process of allocating S106 money/expanding schools changing going forward to improve scrutiny and transparency?

This has not yet been determined. Cabinet will consider a report in November 2015 on managing future S106 contributions, although the number of developments affected by this is likely to be very small.

17. How are Councillors being advised to act in light of the concern about conflict of interests? Will there be an officer ensuring that Councillors both announce their possible interests and also do not participate or vote in issues that they may have an interest in?

The responsibility for declaring interests in relation to agenda items at council meetings rests with Councillors. Officers from Democratic Services do, however, ensure that the agenda for each meeting has the declaration item, and that the Chair seeks those declarations from all present and any latecomers. Officers are also available to offer advice before or during meetings to Councillors who have queries about declarations of interest.

Council has recently approved an updated Code of Conduct for Councillors, which you can find here. This comes into effect on 1st November 2015.

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