Hertfordshire County Council criticised for failing to spend £56m in community money
- Credit: Sarah Allison
Hertfordshire County Council has been criticised for failing to spend £56 million in community money – the highest amount among English authorities.
The council has obtained the funds through Section 106 agreements with developers, whereby an amount of money is given to offset the impact planning projects have on the community.
The money is then assigned for a certain use, and can help fund a range of council-backed services such as schools, libraries, transport and roads.
The Conservative-controlled county council was found to have the most unspent S106 money of the 316 local authorities in England which responded to a BBC Freedom of Information request. The remaining 37 authorities did not respond.
It has also been revealed that £691,000 in S106 money had to be returned to developers by the county council in a five-year period up to April, 2013, as it had not been spent in time. For the past financial year, £45,000 was returned.
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Stevenage county councillors representing both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the county council over the findings.
“This money has been allocated as a way of recompensing residents for disruption caused by planning projects and the council has a responsibility to ensure it is spent,” said Bedwell division councillor Sharon Taylor, who is also leader of the Labour-controlled Stevenage Borough Council.
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“Why the county council hasn’t done this I don’t understand. This money for community projects should be filling some of the gaps left by the cuts in government funding.”
Liberal Democrat Robin Parker, who represents the Chells division on the county council, said he was most concerned with the money that has had to be returned.
He said: “To have to return money is ludicrous. It’s not right that any money should be left unspent, particularly in these difficult economic times.”
Derrick Ashley, cabinet member for resources and transformation at the county council, said: “Getting the most from our resources is of vital importance to us and I appreciate 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.
“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.”