CHESHIRE East is striving to make S106 agreements more flexible after a damning internal audit report earlier this year revealed millions of pounds hadn’t been allocated to agreed schemes.

S106 agreements are contracts between the council and developers to secure financial or other contributions to mitigate the impact of development.

Such agreements may include a financial contribution to education to fund additional school places necessitated by the building of new homes in an area.

The money could also be allocated for highways schemes required to mitigate the impact of a development.

Jane Gowing, interim director of planning, was giving members of the audit and governance committee an update yesterday (Thursday) on the progress made on the managing and monitoring arrangements for S106 funding, following September’s highly critical report.

Ms Gowing said another experienced member of staff had been recruited to help with the workload.

Northwich Guardian: Cllr Ken EdwardsCllr Ken Edwards (Image: Cheshire East Council)Bollington councillor Ken Edwards (Lab) said: “My experience in the past, is they've [S106 agreements] had to be interpreted very, very rigidly and that has sometimes prevented the positive use of, certainly, community benefit funds for the community.

"Can they be worded sufficiently flexibly to use all the funds that are available?”

Ms Gowing said she has had discussions with legal colleagues with regard to making future agreements more flexible.

She told the committee there were three key legal tests an agreement had to meet in every circumstance ‘however, there are some flexibilities that we are looking to use where appropriate’.

She gave an example where an agreement might have been made a number of years ago for a roundabout to mitigate the impact of a development.

“But if that scheme doesn't start on site for four or five years and other works have happened in the vicinity in that intervening time, it might be something slightly different that's needed today,” she said. “It might be pedestrian crossings instead, which will still meet that legal test, but we’re then prevented from doing it because that wording was so specific in the first instance.”

With reference to why some developers’ cash might not be used for many years, the interim planning boss said this was often the case for highways schemes in particular, adding: “Where large sums of money are pooled to deliver larger infrastructure, that would be an expectation.”

And she told the committee: “In addition to that, planning permission is often granted and lasts for three, sometimes five years, so there will be a big delay from securing the agreement to actually securing it in the council's bank, and then securing delivery on the ground.”