Wales

Developers owe Welsh councils £2.3m under Section 106 agreements

More than half of Welsh councils are owed money from private developers which should be going towards community facilities.

BBC Wales has found that nearly £2.3m was outstanding in December 2011, in figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

One council was repaid over £80,000 after BBC Wales made its inquiry.

The Welsh Local Government Association said councils are robust in collecting money despite the "difficult period".

The money is due under what are known as section 106 agreements - clauses in planning permission documents designed to mitigate the impact of a development on the local area.

They are often used to ensure there is money available for new roads, children's play areas, community facilities or for maintaining public spaces that are required as part of new development.

The amounts outstanding in December 2011 varied across the country - Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouth and Ceredigion did not have any money outstanding while Caerphilly, Cardiff and Wrexham councils were owed more than £400,000 each.

'Area of weakness'

Bridgend council was owed £116,852, of which over £80,000 outstanding since last November was repaid a few days ago.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said a number of section 106 agreements were "subject to renegotiation" and that councils were "trying to be flexible and realistic" with developers.

Image caption Vale of Glamorgan council said it is holding a review to see if money is due to it

Anglesey, Powys and the Vale of Glamorgan did not provide BBC Wales with the amounts they were owed.

Vale of Glamorgan said that it was "undertaking a full review" of all the agreements to determine if anything is outstanding and will look to collect interest payments if the payments are late.

Torfaen council said it was aware how much has been agreed in planning agreements, but not the total amount currently overdue.

Powys said its ability to follow up on section 106 agreements was an "area of weakness" and was recruiting someone to keep track.

Anglesey said officials do not keep the information in a central database.

Blaenau Gwent and Flintshire councils have yet to confirm whether anything is due.

New levy

Swansea Council would not confirm amounts owing, despite having an officer responsible for "overseeing the management" of section 106 obligations and benefiting from an "up-to-date" planning obligations policy.

Local government consultant Jeff Jones said the "golden era" of section 106 agreements providing large new facilities for councils was over due to tough economic conditions.

He added that some councils struggled to keep track of what was owed because of staff turnover and a lack of experience within the planning process.

Peter Cox from Cardiff Civic Society explained that the planning system will change in future with the introduction of a community infrastructure levy.

The new legislation will be adopted by the Welsh government in 2014 and is designed to create a more consistent system by introducing a set rate for developers to pay, based on the amount of land or number of units being built.

Mr Cox said setting the level of the new levy, which will be decided by local authorities, would make the system more transparent.

"It will be much easier for someone to look up and see who has got to pay what - and when have they paid it," he said.

The new levy will also allow neighbouring authorities to pool the proceeds of the charge to create a fund for much larger infrastructure projects, such as a regional transport system.

There is more on this story on the Sunday Politics on 5 February at 11:00 GMT on BBC One Wales.

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