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Specifying land for schools under S106s

New schools are often allocated under Section 106 agreements during the planning process for new developments. With quality needing to play a central pillar, John Clarke, director at multi-disciplinary consultancy Pick Everard, explains how to ensure this level of quality across land allocation under such planning obligations

When a planning application results in a Section 106 agreement (S106), this creates a legally binding obligation between the local planning authority and the property owner – usually a developer. The purpose is to mitigate the impact of any development on the local community and infrastructure, and therefore often creates the need to allocate land for the local authority to develop new infrastructure like schools. Demand is already on the rise for healthcare and school facilities before considering the government’s considerable housing targets. So, S106 agreements will likely hold a central role in making sure undue pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure and seeks to expand the provision to support growing local populations. However, it’s important that the land allocated for such development is as fit- for-purpose as possible, while also ensuring that any ‘leftover land’ the developer wishes to offload, isn’t allocated for such important facilities. Quality must be the central pillar for S106-provided schools. This creates a quandary on how to ensure an appropriate level of land quality. It’s also where we can take forward learnings from the way in which we optimise the design of schools themselves. MMC is often utilised for such environments, providing a blueprint that can be adapted for specific requirements, such as SEND schools. The idea of having a specification that is also adaptable and can run into the land allocation, ensures that every new school site benefits from having the best setting possible. We have been working very closely with Buckinghamshire County Council on such work, making sure it is able to effectively bring forward schools under S106 agreements. The solution sounds simple – the creation of a specification that sets out very clearly the type of land the council will accept for schools, and that developers must abide by when selecting the land. The reality relies on collaboration. The creation of a specification came from lots of workshops and liaison with Buckinghamshire County Council’s team, and wider agencies such as highways. This allows the identification of what stipulations must be made to accept land, such as it being uniform in shape, flat and accessible. The existence of such a specification allows a local authority like Buckinghamshire County Council to place stipulations on other elements too. For example, safety is of paramount importance for any school, so certain stipulations can be made on the land location to enhance this further, such as making sure a school isn’t located too close to power stations, prisons or train lines. Social value is also generated in line with the S106 agreement, making sure that the community benefits from the additional infrastructure stipulated, rather than simple feeling the pressure on existing services. However, it would be fair to say that through specifying the land requirements for schools to ensure high-quality, the schools developed are the best they can possibly be and therefore create a higher level of positive impact than slotting a school into an offloaded portion of land. Simply put, a level of well-informed collaboration is the key to creating an incredibly powerful specification tool, which breeds excellent rewards for the local community and economy. It’s all about enhancing the processes already in place to create the absolute best outcomes and returns possible.

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