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Setting Up Planning Obligations

Wood fuel building at YHA National Forest

Planning Obligations must be drawn up within the framework of national planning guidance, currently Circular 05/05 Planning Obligations and the 2010 Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations. Experience from The National Forest has shown there to be a number of important "Do's" and "Don'ts" to ensure that the maximum desired effect of setting up a Planning Obligation is achieved:-

  • Have an agreed process in place from the outset that involves all relevant interests and disciplines - eg Planners, Legal Officers, Treasurers, Technical Services, Landscape Architects.
  • Identify a lead officer who can preferably be involved in a case from start to finish. This will help overall coordination and continuity as well as ensure that an Agreement is implemented and commuted sums are spent as planned. This officer should establish early contact with the National Forest Company (NFC).
  • Have a clear understanding of what is needed from an Agreement, to cover both initial capital costs and long term maintenance commitments.
  • Achieve maximum flexibility when drawing up Agreements. Agreements drawn too tightly limit flexibility and when commuted sums are involved, risk money not being spent. Avoid time limitations, or set long timescales (eg 10 years), as money may have to be repaid with interest, if unspent.

    Also avoid tight geographic restrictions e.g. for achieving off site planting, particularly if 'hope value' near to the development is likely to be an issue.

    Interpret off-site planting or commuted sum contributions broadly. Phrase Agreements, where possible, as "providing contributions towards an appropriate Forest project". If a planting scheme does not prove possible this will allow other options to be explored as set out in Section 3 to this Guide.
  • Make provision for capital and maintenance funds. It is no good having (e.g.) 50,000 to plant a woodland if there are no future funds to maintain the planting. Better to have (e.g.) 30,000 for planting and a commuted sum of 20,000 to cover future maintenance.
  • Earmark commuted sums within the Councils' reserves, to ensure that the money is not mistakenly used in general expenditure by the Local Authority.
  • Generate interest on commuted sums by externally investing funds. Investment income is then received annually and the proportion needed for project maintenance can be split off into a separate revenue budget.
  • Issue clear instructions on the use of funds. The administering Department must know what funds have been allocated for. (e.g. avoid spending a commuted sum on capital items if it is earmarked for long term maintenance!).
  • Be innovative and take every opportunity. If a Section 106 Agreement cannot be used are there other ways to secure Forest gain? For example, using a Planning Condition principle normally applied to mineral workings - "to secure environmental improvements to compensate for the detriment caused by development".
  • Proof read all legal documents before signature. This seems a basic point but what may be agreed in planning terms may be differently interpreted in legal terms!
  • Potential schemes. The National Forest Company normally has a number of projects in the pipeline that may be suitable for commuted sums and would welcome early discussions with applicants.

Contact us


Philip Metcalfe, Green Infrastructure and Planning Officer

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National Forest Company
Enterprise Glade
Bath Yard
DE12 6BA
United Kingdom

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+44 (0)1283 551211

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