The inspector agreed that the scheme was acceptable in principle, with the benefits of the new homes in an area of need outweighing any limited adverse impacts. The only bone of contention revolved around the requirements of a section 106 agreement providing for a contribution towards monitoring a travel plan for the development.
The proposed agreement required submission of an annual monitoring report to demonstrate that the travel plan's objectives and targets were being achieved in full. It also specified an annual financial contribution of £1,000 to the county council to cover officer time spent in assessing the submitted reports.
As the site would adjoin a key service centre, the inspector found that it was well located for access to local facilities and public transport. Given the scheme's size, he accepted that a travel plan was necessary to ensure that assumptions and projections around traffic growth, modal split and traffic impact on the surrounding highway network were robust. He found that the travel plan was directly related to the development and it would be appropriate to secure it through a section 106 agreement.
However, he noted that the county council did not propose to employ additional staff to monitor the plan and had provided no breakdown of the likely time or costs incurred in undertaking this work in-house. In his view, the workload involved did not justify the level of the proposed contribution, so this element of the agreement did not meet the test of being fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind, as required by paragraph 204 of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Inspector: Kenneth Stone; Hearing
Comment Both sides provided appeal precedents on the issue of whether the monitoring fee would meet the test in paragraph 204. The inspector noted that this depended on the nature, breadth and amount of contributions involved, but found no clarity on how the figure had been reached in this case. He referred to Oxfordshire County Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Others , where the court did not exclude the possibility that monitoring fees could satisfy the tests of reasonableness, albeit most likely only in exceptional circumstances.