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£300,000 ‘Community Money’ at Risk of Being Returned to Developers

Published on: 22 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 23 Apr, 2022

By Emily Coady Stemp

local democracy reporter

Nearly £300,000 obtained from developers to improve Guildford’s communities is at risk of being handed back because the council has neither allocated nor spent it.

The Section 106 money is intended to be used for social and community projects when planning applications are developed, and now councillors say action is needed to make sure the money is not lost.

Section 106 payments are made by developers to compensate communities for the damage caused or extra needs created by new developments such as this one in Ash.

GBC’s Corporate Governance and Standards Committee met on Thursday (April 21) and discussed a report prepared by officers which showed how much money had been allocated for public projects, such as school extensions or road improvements, what it had been spent on and what was still outstanding.

Cllr Susan Parker speaking in the debate

In a sober debate, devoid of party point-scoring, Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) said the report showed that £289,000 was at risk of being returned to developers, of which £270,000 was in the borough council’s control.

She said: “[The report] absolutely highlights a problem that we all rather suspected but weren’t in a position to know and now we do know.”

She called for “specific direct and urgent action” to make sure the money did not have to be given back.

Cllr Parker said the money did not belong to the council, or to the developers.

She said: “It belongs to the people of Guildford, who’ve had to put up with the inconveniences of the planning that’s associated with these section 106 contributions.

“They’re not getting the benefits of the services for which the developers have, subject to good negotiation, paid.

“And that’s wrong. And that’s our responsibility as a council.”

A council report included an unspent £16,783.44 allocated under the category “environmental policy & design” for a development at The Quarry & numbers 1 & 3, Chantry View Road, off the A281 Shalford Road, in 2010, to which Cllr Parker drew the committee’s attention.

She said the council did not even know what this money would be spent on, but that the contribution would have been a factor in helping the Planning Committee to reach a decision to approve the development.

Cllr Parker added: “It must have had a purpose at the time. We must have known why that was negotiated at the time.

“We need a better mechanism for safeguarding what is, after all, public money that should go to public purposes.”

Several councillors called on ward members to liaise with their county council divisional counterparts to establish how and where the money would be spent, especially because a lot of section 106 money relates to schools and health partners, which the borough council does not have control over.

Officers confirmed they should be able to circulate the report to all councillors and sort by ward to assist in improving the process.

It was also pointed out by Claire Morris, the council’s resources director, that just under half of the money under the borough council’s control related to CCTV contributions, which was undergoing a wider review.

Cllr Nigel Manning

Cr Nigel Manning (Con, Ash Vale) told the meeting he already asks for regular section 106 reports which show specific spends and time frames, which were not on the report brought to the committee.

He highlighted money shown on the report as outstanding for CCTV in Lysons Avenue in Ash, which he said was money that had been spent by Guildford Borough Council eight years ago but had not been cross charged within the council as section 106 money.

Cllr Manning also made the point that S106 money was often allocated for very specific purposes “which is very annoying” and which could make it difficult to spend if the envisaged work could not be completed.

He also encouraged all councillors to get involved in seeing what section 106 money was available and trying to get the projects to progress.

He added: “It’s money that needs to be spent for the benefit of the residents. That’s what it’s there for… Developers are already rich, it’s residents who need the money to be spent on them.”

Cllr David Goodwin

Cllr David Goodwin (Liberal Democrat, Onslow) said he had spent a long time on the county council and “used to talk to himself” about such issues, encouraging borough councillors to ensure they communicated with their county representatives.

He said the most important thing would be to see results as soon as possible because officers negotiated “quite hard” sometimes to get section 106 agreements from the developers.

He added: “It’s a crying shame if we ever gave one penny back to any developer for any development anywhere in the borough.”

Other outstanding amounts in the report included £63,121.10 at risk of being returned in relation to the former DEFRA site, in Epsom Road, agreed in 2008. £86,878.90 had already been spent on Epsom Road improvements.

There were also two amounts of £25,078.93 relating to development of The Croft in Foreman Road, Ash, from an agreement signed in 2013 and allocated under “drainage study contribution”.

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