Council hands back almost £800k infrastructure cash back to developers (From St Albans & Harpenden Review)
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Hertfordshire County Council hands back almost £800k infrastructure cash back to developers
More than three quarters of a million pounds earmarked to improve infrastructure in Hertfordshire such as roads and libraries has been handed back to developers as the county council failed to spend it within the ten-year window.
Figures released by Hertfordshire County Council show it has repaid just under £800,000 in section 106 contributions, which developers pay as part of the planning process, since 2008.
The lion’s share of the reimbursed money, £657,246, was meant to improve the county’s roads system.
Stephen Giles-Medhurst, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group, condemned the wastage sayings: “The money would have been part of a planning agreement to improve the highways or infrastructure.
“This could have been pedestrian crossings, bus stops, traffic calming, anything to mitigate an increase in traffic.
“That money has now been repaid to developers and it should have been used for community improvements. Its money the county had and had to give back to developer profits.
“It’s a total disgrace. It strikes me they haven’t got a grip on financial control and is certainly bad news for residents.”
The figures also show the council is still sitting on £950,863 of section 106 money, which needs to be spent by 2016.
A further £1.2 million must be spent in the next three years or it will have to be refunded to developers.
Hertfordshire County Council is currently sitting a total of £52 million worth of section 106 monies - more than any other local authority in England.
A total of £4.8m is available for improvements in St Albans district.
Councillor Sandy Walkington “This is more than £50 for every man, woman and child in the county.
“Heaven knows, it’s tough enough for everyone in the current spending climate, so it’s shocking that so much money is lying idle. It’s even worse that the figures reveal that Hertfordshire has had to return £691,000 just in the current period to developers because it missed the time limit to allocate the money.”
When the Territorial Army Centre in Camp Road £65,864.04 was allocated as part of section 106 money.
So far £47,484.05 of this has been allocated to building a classroom in conjunction with the sports hall project at Sandringham School.
The council now have until November next year to allocate other provisions for the rest of this money, otherwise it will be returned to the developer.
Derrick Ashley, Conservative cabinet member for Resources and Transformation, said: “Hertfordshire County Council uses Section 106 funding to support the provision of services and infrastructure, such as schools, libraries, transport and roads.
“Getting the most from our resources is of vital importance to us and I appreciate that some people might think we should spend this money elsewhere. However, there are strict legal limitations on how Section 106 money can be spent. Money provided through S106 agreements can only be used for the purposes set out in the agreement and not for other purposes. Agreements often include geographical limitations, and limits round how long the money may be kept for.
“It is often the case that the funding cannot be spent until a development has reached a certain stage, which is why many of the agreements have lengthy expiry dates and why we hold sums of Section 106 money."
The problem of unspent section 106 money was highlighted during a scrutiny review in 2010, when the total held was £47million.
Councillor Giles-Medhurst added: “Changes were promised but still money is being handed back. Indeed we raised this problem as far back as 2003.
“I raised this twice, there have been two scrutiny reviews. We were assured this would be stopped and clearly it is still going on.
“This revelation comes hard on the heels of our discovery that the county is spending £7 million on maintaining empty buildings because they have no strategy for the property portfolio. “The Conservative ruling administration needs to get a financial grip. The people of Hertfordshire deserve better.”
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