England

Councils sit on £241m homes cash

Councils in the East of England are sitting on £241m of unspent planning gain cash, a BBC investigation has revealed.

BBC Inside Out in the East has also found out some local authorities have been hanging on to money for so long it has had to be handed back to developers.

The figures come following a Freedom of Information survey from 55 councils in the East of England.

If replicated across all local authorities in England the amount of unspent money would reach almost £2.5bn.

Earmarked for roads, education, and affordable housing the money, called Section 106 funds, has been handed to councils over the past 10 years as part of negotiations with developers.

Essex County Council has the largest amount unspent of any council in the East with £42m.

Deputy leader David Finch told Inside Out the money is "in the process of being spent" and they have earmarked £28m for expenditure on "carefully planned projects within Essex".

But Essex County council admitted to programme makers that £726,000 has had to be handed back to developers because the deadline for spending it had expired.

Almost £2.5m of planning gain money has been handed back to developers in the past five years by councils in the East, a figure described as "inexcusable" by Simon Galton from the Local Government Association.

"Particularly at the present time when there's a real need for that kind of investment and it will also bring jobs," he said.

Poor monitoring of the amounts coming in is being blamed for the slow rate of expenditure.

Planning expert Professor Robert Home warned that "recent cuts mean that probably there are fewer people to do this monitoring. So ironically you've got a large pot of money but you don't have the means to actually spend it".

In Saffron Walden Uttlesford District Council received £2.2m for affordable housing following terminal expansion at Stansted Airport.

Despite receiving the planning gain money in 2003, the cash still has not been spent.

Director of development Roger Harborough told Inside Out: "The constraint has not been a lack of money, it's been availability of sites on which development can take place."

Image caption Essex County Council's deputy leader David Finch said the money is "in the process of being spent"

But local resident Simon Trimnal, who has been on Uttlesford's housing waiting list for five years, said sitting on the cash meant for affordable housing is unacceptable.

"It's just not right. I'm Saffron Walden born and bred and I can't afford to live here," he said.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Councils can agree obligations with developers to ensure their proposals are acceptable to the community and deal with their impact on the area in line with local plans.

"These can include provision of buildings like schools or affordable housing, or payment towards infrastructure projects.

"Where there has been a payment it will benefit the community but it is common for councils to hold some money until the project has been started."

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