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Community Benefit Funds & Planning Applications

So a developer has put in for a planning application and alongside it they’ve offered a ‘community benefit fund’. What does this mean and can it influence the planning decision?

What is a ‘Community Benefit Fund’?

The term ‘community benefit fund’ is common, but it may be named something else depending on the developer. Typically it is offered as a sum of money per year for either the duration of the development (if it is temporary) or for a fixed number of years (if it permanent). But it may also be one lump sum up front. For yearly payments it is usually index-linked (i.e. it should rise with inflation – but can also fall with deflation!).

Please note that this is not the same as a CIL or section 106 payment. These are legal agreements which are designated specifically for infrastructure creation or improvements that are organised by the local Council rather than the developer.

Is a Community Benefit Fund a bribe?

Developers are not required to offer a community benefit fund. But some do. For example, around Bramford two of the three different solar developers offered a community benefit fund. One offered nothing.

How you see it is up to you, but many people do consider this as an attempt to bribe local communities, and even unsuspecting Councillors and planning officers.

However, a fundamental principle in law is that planning permission cannot be bought or sold. The following two articles regarding a Supreme Court ruling determined that such payments are not to be considered in determining planning applications:

https://www.pinsentmasons.com/out-law/news/supreme-court-community-benefits-not-planning-material-consideration

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/legal-updates/planning-consent-and-community-benefits/5102907.article

Is a Community Benefit Fund guaranteed?

No. Only CIL or s106 payments can be guaranteed, and this is done through proper legal channels.

Once upon a time such payments were allowed to be guaranteed through a planning condition, however a landmark case at the Supreme Court determined that they could no longer be done so. (see above links)

This means that, if your developer offers such a fund, and permission is granted, they are not required to honour their offer.

In March 2022, in a last minute attempt to sway opinion, a solar developer offered a £150k lump sum. This caused huge outrage amongst the public (and even prompted dozens more objections to be lodged against the application). The Planning Officer had to submit an addendum to their report to the Planning Committee.

Summary

So whilst a developer may offer a financial incentive to support their application, please be aware that it is not guarranteed, cannot be guaranteed by a legal agreement, and it must not be considered as a benefit when determining the application. Most planning departments are aware of this already, but it doesn’t hurt to ensure it is mentioned in your objection.

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