Home developers baulk at educational levy

24th September 2010 at 01:00
As new-build house prices slump, tensions mount over councils' school contribution charges

The "educational contribution" levied by local authority planners on house-builders has been described as the biggest stumbling block to the construction of new homes.

For a number of years, councils have imposed a charge on developers if any housing project is expected to increase pupil numbers in schools which are already at or near capacity.

Traditionally, builders have paid for a temporary classroom or extension to the school - just as they would pay "planning gain" contributions towards the local infrastructure if building a new supermarket.

But now, with new-build house prices depressed by an estimated 25 per cent, builders are baulking at educational charges and claim they are jeopardising the viability of some projects.

Some are changing their tactics and looking for development land near schools with low pupil numbers so that they can avoid such charges, claims Homes for Scotland, the organisation which represents 95 per cent of new housing development in Scotland.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities acknowledged that tensions between council planners and developers had increased recently.

James Fowlie of Cosla told The TESS that, in the face of developers' opposition to educational charges, some councils were being forced to abandon them.

But it has emerged that one council, Perth and Kinross, which is facing the highest projected population growth rate in Scotland, is effectively operating a "roof tax" to fund future expansion of its entire school estate.

The policy, introduced last year and updated in June this year, means that anyone who builds or refurbishes a two-bedroomed house or bigger near high-capacity primary schools in Perth and Kinross has to pay an educational contribution of #163;6,335 per house towards the costs of future school building.

The council's planning guidance states: "All developer contributions will be paid into a fund to facilitate the education provision needs in Perth and Kinross. The costs of education provision vary for each individual project and there is a need to look at the school estate in its totality, as a constraint within one primary school catchment area can, on occasions, be resolved by either the creation of a new school elsewhere or the expansion of an adjacent primary school." The policy exempts "affordable", one-bedroomed or sheltered housing.

But Homes for Scotland argues the council is breaching the convention that planning gain charges should be used to mitigate a detriment that has been caused by a specific development. Perth and Kinross, argues the house-builders' organisation, is asking its members to "anticipate the cumulative impact over the years" of a number of developments which could create a shortage of places in certain schools.

A spokeswoman for Perth and Kinross said the council had received a total of #163;300,422 in developer contributions.

She added: "We are among a number of councils (which include Aberdeenshire, Fife, East Ayrshire, Scottish Borders, Highland, Edinburgh City and Falkirk) taking this kind of approach towards future education infrastructure.

"Our approach to the matter is not significantly different from other councils, with local circumstances guiding our policy."

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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