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Hertfordshire County Council hands 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 saying: "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.
This includes £152,707 worth of improvements to youth provision given by the developer of the former Ovaltine factory in Kings Langley.
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 £4.5 million is available for improvements in Watford, £6.7million in Three Rivers, and £5.6 in Hertsmere.
Labour councillor for Vicarage Holywell, Nigel Bell, said: "It’s very disappointing. It could be a lack of projects or not being able to chase up the developer properly and the time has run out.
Councillor Nigel Bell.
"It shows that the 106 system is not good and needs to be looked at because we are losing out on money that could be used.
"It’s very frustrating when you see people who have to face cuts when there is money that could be spent."
Derrick Ashley, the 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 cash 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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