SBC ‘missing out’ by refusing payment in kind for homes levy

A KELSO businessman says the local authority is missing out by refusing to use professional services offered by local experts in place of financial developer contributions of the sort charged when someone builds a new house.

Colin McGrath, who is also a local Kelso community councillor, is applying for planning consent to build a house for himself and his wife on a site in the Kelso area.

At first, Mr McGrath was told by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) that his developer contribution, which would go towards Eccles Primary School and the new Berwickshire High School at Duns, would total £6,000.

Then, last month, he was told the contribution towards the primary school was no longer needed, but that still left a bill of £3,860 towards the high school.

However, the local authority’s guidance on developer contributions states that the contribution can be “in kind”, rather than financial.

To this end, Mr McGrath, a fellow of the Institute of Personnel and Development and a member of the board of both the Institute of Hospitality Management and the Institute of Management, contacted the council and offered his professional services in the shape of courses for senior pupils in lieu of a financial developer levy.

“What I was offering was to run courses on career planning, how to get a job, how to secure an interview, CV writing and so on,” Mr McGrath explained to TheSouthern this week.

“However, I was informed this would contravene government policies and would not address infrastructure issues at the high school.

“But I would have thought helping ensure local youngsters secure good jobs when they leave school would have been worth more than a monetary contribution.”

Mr McGrath says, that as far as he is aware, the issue of developer contributions being levied on people building one dwelling for their own use, has never been debated by the full SBC.

“I wonder how many ordinary people planning to build their own home are aware this is what happens,” said Mr McGrath.

He says that charging a speculative developer is one thing, but when someone is building a house for themselves, it should not be classed as the same kind of thing.

“In Edinburgh and Dumfries and Galloway, you need to be building 10 or more houses before developer contributions are levied – it should be the same here.”

A spokesperson for SBC said payments in kind would only be considered in “very exceptional circumstances”.

He further explained that the policy allows for consideration to be given to payments in kind but these have to be directly related to what the payment itself would have funded.

Developer contributions are generally sought for capital works – bricks and mortar – and not for revenue purposes such as the ongoing costs of delivering the service. If an applicant or developer is able to pay in kind, for example by undertaking some of the building works themselves, that may be looked upon favourably.

Commenting on Mr McGrath’s case, the spokesman added: “In this particular case, however, I understand the applicant was offering to provide his professional services to the school but the developer contributions that are being sought are retrospective contributions towards the costs of constructing the school which has already been built, therefore the in kind offer would not have been appropriate.”