Is that legal?

We are not at all sure about a south Devon council’s approach to the collection of a payment to offset harm to a Special Area of Conservation (DCS Number 400-012-111).

At appeal an inspector noted that the council had sought a financial contribution towards measures to mitigate the effect of recreational pressure arising from an additional dwelling on the South Hams SAC. The financial contribution had been paid direct to the council rather than being secured by an obligation. The inspector had some concerns that there was no legal guarantee that the money would be spent on the required mitigation. However, the council routinely sought such payments in this manner, he recorded, and had devised a form to accommodate such arrangements, publicised on its website, which the appellants had completed when making the relevant payment. The council’s solicitor said that the council was under a moral obligation to ensure that the monies paid were used for the purpose for which they were paid and to be in a position to be able to account to the payee as to what the money had been expended on. Having regard to the relatively small sum involved, the inspector considered that there was sufficient assurance that the mitigation would be honoured.

The Planning Policy Guidance states that “To ensure transparency local planning authorities are encouraged to make publically available information as to what planning obligation contributions are received and how these contributions are used.” Provided that this advice is applied equally to cheque payments and bank transfers this practice might be seen as a helpful and pragmatic approach to the collection of financial contributions. Our concern, however, is that there is clearly scope for transparency to be compromised.

What is readers’ experience of this practice? Is it widespread?

The following DCP chapter is relevant: 4.6

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