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Housing trust granted more time to spend £2.1m in surplus cash
Watford Community Housing Trust has been given an extra three years to spend what remains of the £9m "golden hello" it received from the borough council five years ago.
Ruling politicians in Watford Borough Council’s cabinet yesterday agreed a request to allow the trust until 2015 to spend the £2.1m it has not managed to spend within the originally agreed time.
At a meeting of the Liberal Democrat-controlled cabinet, Watford mayor Dorothy Thornhill said the deadline extension was necessary to avoid the trust panic spending on "white elephants".
The trust was given a £9m estates improvement fund to spend on projects around the town when it took over the council’s housing stock in 2007. At that time, it made a list of five-year pledges it agreed to have completed by September 2012.
Council officers said in a report to the cabinet that the trust was well on its way to fulfilling the majority of its promises but had requested changes to two.
One was an extension to the time it has to spend the estates improvement fund to be put back to 2015 and the other was to dispose of 64 Chalk Hill, Bushey, instead of redeveloping it.
Mayor Thornhill said the trust had underspent the fund as it had started off using it for small parochial projects. But lately she said the trust started to put it towards more extensive schemes. Explaining the decision behind the fund, Mayor Thornhill said: "Our group felt very strongly that the (housing stock) transfer was not just about homes. We also felt your neighbourhood is just as important as your home.
"We wanted to give the trust a golden hello as we wanted it to invest money in the area.
"We were disappointed in how long it took to spend and how unambitious the trust had been to start with. But we have started to see stuff get done and some of it is transformational."
Asif Khan, a Labour councillor for Leggatts, queried why the trust wanted such a long extension on the deadline to spend the remaining cash.
Mayor Thornhill responded: "If we said ‘no’ they would have to go out and spend several million pounds like that and we could end up with several white elephants."
Over the past four and a half years the trust has spent £6.5m on more than 20 projects, with around half being spent on a £3.1m works programme to fences, garages and paths on its estates.
Other estates to benefit from the cash were Croxley View in West Watford, which received £108,000 for an "amenity space" and Foxhill in north Watford with £240,000 for visual estate improvements.
The trust is also using the fund to refurbish community centres. Council buildings it has taken control of include £925,000 on Leavesden Green Community Centre, £194,000 for the Harebreaks Centre and £15,000 on the Boundary Way Community Centre.
Some of the other projects which have received cash from the fund are £126,000 for CCTV, £50,000 on an educational partnership with West Herts College, £130,000 to the River Colne Project and £2,000 for access and training at Vibe Radio.
Before last night’s meeting the cabinet saw a list of some of the other projects the trust is considering for the remaining cash. Among them is £100,000 for the Meriden Community Centre, £30,000 for a multimedia workshop and £7,000 for new gates on the Chiltern Pines estate to help combat anti-social behaviour.
However the cabinet rejected a request from the trust for the council to help pay half the costs of rebuilding the Leavesden Green Community Centre, with politicians saying it should look to its underspent fund for the cash.