LTP v S106: WTF…?

by Stephen Tall on August 9, 2005

The lexicon of local government is fine-tuned to baffle all but the most diligent cognoscenti. There is just so much unnecessary wrapping. Cynics often assume the idea of this must be to keep ordinary mortals amused by peeling away the layers, while council officers continue playing pass the parcel. In truth, all professions develop terminology which is devoid of meaning out-of-context: government is simply one of the more visible. All of which is a prolix way of introducing you to two abbreviations: the LTP and S106s. Intrigued? How sad… but read on, do.

Let’s first get the definitions out the way so we can relax and enjoy ourselves. The LTP is the County Council’s Local Transport Plan, and this document sets out, self-explanatorily enough, the council’s vision for transport in Oxfordshire. LTP1 covered the period 2001-06, and the County has recently published its new, provisional plan, LTP2, to take us from 2006 to 2011. (If you start to think of it as a little like Vatican I, Vatican II etc, it may help. Or may not.) The LTP is written by the County’s transport officers to abide by criteria which are laid down by central government. If the council’s LTP does not fit with the government’s objectives, the government can simply withhold the cash the County would need to fund the work.

How, practically, does Oxfordshire’s LTP1 and LTP2 differ? So far as I can make out, the original LTP envisaged dealing with the county’s transport problems via area strategies, of which there were six – covering Oxford, Witney, Abingdon, Banbury, Bicester and Didcot. LTP2, however, measures all new transport measures, no matter where they are, against five criteria – tackling congestion; delivering accessibility; safer roads; better air quality; and improving the street environment. All good stuff, all fair enough, you say. And so, for that matter, would I. So let’s move on to our second definition.

S106 (or Section 106 agreements) “provide a means to ensure that a proposed development contributes to the creation of sustainable communities, particularly by securing contributions towards the provision of necessary infrastructure and facilities required by local and national planning policies.” As you may have guessed, that jargon-tastic definition is taken from a government document available on the ODPM website. (Oh come on, ODPM’s an easy one: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott’s personal behemoth.)

Here’s my layman’s definition: S106s are legal agreements by which a developer pays the council to undertake work that is necessary to offset the negative side-effects of planning permission. Obvious examples are ‘boundary treatment’ (ie, planting trees between a new house and its neighbour to prevent over-looking), and payments towards particular traffic calming measures if the new development is likely to generate a significant amount of new traffic. And it’s this latter example which has been exercising me of late.

I’ve been a member of Oxford City Council’s North East area planning committee for four years now, so I’ve seen a fair few planning applications. And during that time I have, at various points, made myself unpopular with some local residents by voting for a particular application which they were agin. Sometimes because I felt their objections were plain wrong; oftentimes because to have voted against rejection would simply have led to the Council being taken successfully to appeal by the developer, at great expense to the taxpayer, and with fewer mitigating conditions imposed by a Planning Inspector than the Council would have imposed.

And now we get, perhaps not before time, to the nub of this article.

Any highways conditions imposed by the planning authority, Oxford City Council, have to be acceptable to the highways authority, Oxfordshire County Council. So if, as has happened quite a lot in Headington, a new hospital is to be built, the County advises the City what money the PCT (Primary Care Trust, before you ask) should pay for new transport schemes to try and ensure the roads are not gridlocked by new staff and visitors arriving by car. Councillors like me then duly vote in favour of granting planning permission on the basis that, with these measures in place, the area will be able to cope with the new development.

And then we wait,
and wait,
and then we wait some more.

Now imagine a few years have gone by. Actually, we don’t have to imagine: in Headington, a few years have gone by. The new hospital(s) are set to open, but those transport measures which were imposed as conditions by the City on the County’s advice have still to be put in place. So you have a meeting with the County’s transport officers to find out when these measures will happen. And it is at this point it dawns on you…

Those S106 transport measures which were recommended by the County Council officers were assessed against the old LTP1 objectives, not the emerging LTP2 criteria. Which means that those transport measures deemed essential when the planning application was being considered are now not necessarily considered priorities: they will have to compete against every other transport scheme in the county. And if two transport measures are, hypothetically, assessed as equal priorities, it will be the LTP scheme that goes ahead, while the S106 condition languishes on the sidelines.

So there you have it: in the game of LTP v S106 it’s a home win every time.