'Greater transparency' called for over developers' money to be spent in local communities

By Chris Derrick in Politics

South Hams District Council is sitting on millions of pounds of developers’ money earmarked for affordable housing, open spaces, sport and recreation.

At a meeting of the overview and scrutiny panel last week, it was shown that more than £4.4m is being held in SHDC accounts.

Some of the money waiting to be spent on affordable housing and community facilities includes £459,415 from the Riverside development in Totnes; £341,318 from the Gara Rock Hotel development near East Portlemouth; £193,857 from the Bonfire Hill development in Salcombe; and £150,191 from Sawmills Field, Dartington.

Under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, contributions can be sought from developers to provide community and social infrastructure, with the money earmarked to be spent in the communities affected by the development.

The purpose of the S106 fund is to support and enable local communities to provide and improve open spaces, sport, recreation and community facilities.

Some town and parish councils have stated they don’t know how much money is allocated to them. In the public forum at the Follaton House meeting, three questions were put to the panel by Lesley Hughes, clerk of Ivybridge Town Council, who called for “named officers” dealing with S106 obligations to be contactable and known to town/parish councils. Ms Hughes stated that Ivybridge had not received answers about several S106 agreements in the town.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Keith Baldry, ward member for Newton and Yealmpton called for “greater transparency in following money allocated through the S106 agreements”.

Conservative Cllr Karen Pringle, ward member for Ivybridge East said: “Councils don’t know who to contact regarding S106 money. Money isn’t being flagged up. How can parish councillors keep an eye on this money?”

In response, the council now plan to update a list on a quarterly basis showing the amount of S106 contributions available to local communities - which will be available to ward members and town/parish councils.

Conservative Cllr Judy Pearce, ward member for Salcombe and Thurlestone said: “The list should be kept up to date and circulated so ward members know and can advise parish councils. We need information on money not being spent, it isn’t fair on our communities.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Julian Brazil, ward member for Stokenham said: “This is an excellent step in highlighting something we have been missing.”

Cllr Brazil called for separate tables to show how much money is uncollected, and how much will be allocated once “certain trigger points” have been met - for example, the tenth house has been built.

Conservative Cllr Simon Wright, ward member for Salcombe and Thurlestone said: “We need to share this information with a wider audience so the money can be spent in the local communities it is intended for. The amount of S106 contributions should be updated on a quarterly basis.”

Chairman of the overview and scrutiny panel and ward member for Ivybridge West, Cllr Michael Saltern said: “This has opened a hornets nest. The panel accepts the position and expresses concern over backlogs and endorses initiatives for improvement under development.

“Ward members haven’t been kept up-to-date. We need a separate table showing the amount of money and a separate table showing how much is uncollected.”

A spokesman for South Hams District Council said: “South Hams District Council is keen for residents to understand how these contributions are collected, allocated and spent in their communities.

“This is a complex process where the money is collected at different trigger points in development, this could be when work commences, when part of a development is built or when works are completed. There are many conditions attached to S106 funds and each planning application is different.”

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