Proposals to increase developers’ contributions for schools in North Yorkshire

County Hall, Northallerton.

North Yorkshire County Council, which has been accused of failing to secure hundreds of thousands of pounds of contributions towards education from housing developers, looks set to overhaul its policy to increase funding to expand and create schools.

A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive next week will consider proposals including lowering the minimum number of houses being built for which primary education contributions would be sought to ten and for secondary education contributions to 25.

Other proposed measures include levying 16 per cent more to fund primary expansions and six per cent extra for secondary expansions, while the average price of a newly-built house in several districts, including Selby, Craven and Ryedale has increased by over 50 per cent, and in Harrogate borough by more than 95 per cent, in the same period.

In addition, the councillors will consider introducing requests for contributions for special educational needs and disabilities and early years education for larger developments.

Should the executive approve the revised policy on developer contributions for education, it will be for each district  council to decide how and when they will seek to adopt this revised policy as part of their Local Plan.

The leading members’ meeting will be told the revised policy aims to provide the justification and evidence for developer contributions for education that may be sought and will become a material consideration in determining planning applications but it cannot ensure that the County Council will be able to secure these obligations.

The proposed measures follow Richmondshire councillor Helen Grant highlighting a “ridiculous situation” in which the county council refused money towards education from housing developers because the launch of an academy meant there was a surplus of places for pupils.

District councils said while action was needed over the issue, they feared the revised education levy could deter builders and hit other areas which developers contribute funding towards.

A Hambleton District Council spokesman said the proposals had “the potential to affect development viability in lower value areas and have a knock on impact on other things that are funded from development, specifically affordable housing.”

Industry experts and developers have warned they believe the proposed measures could be unworkable.

Addison Planning Consultants said producing a “bottom drawer” planning policy to secure developer contributions was contrary to national planning policy and potentially unlawful.

A spokesman for the firm added: “Policies for planning obligations should be set out in plans and examined in public. Policy requirements should be clear so that they can be accurately accounted for in the price paid for land. Such policies should be informed by evidence of infrastructure and affordable housing need, and a proportionate assessment of viability.”

However, the meeting will hear analysis of the policies of nearest neighbour councils has shown that North Yorkshire’s proposals are similar to those adopted by most of these county councils, and the full education contribution proposed to be sought per house would be below the average.

The officers’ report states: “When the housing market is taken into account, North Yorkshire’s proposed education contributions would still only place the county within the lower half of the range of its nearest neighbours.”

Ahead of the meeting, Independent group leader Councillor Stuart Parsons called for the authority to show more flexibility so education contribution levels impacted less on affordable housing funding. Calling for a policy that would enable each development to be assessed “on merit”, he said setting minimum house numbers for education charges would encourage piecemeal developments avoiding the levy.

He said: “They have to look at something that is a little more intelligent than national guidelines.” [kofi]