Councils hold �25m - instead of spending it on community

SUFFOLK'S councils have been criticised for hoarding millions of pounds of money which should be spent on community projects.

Russell Claydon

SUFFOLK'S councils have been criticised for hoarding millions of pounds of money which should be spent on community projects.

One campaign group says it is a “deeply unsatisfactory'' situation after figures obtained by the EADT show that Suffolk County Council and the seven borough and district councils are holding a combined fortune of �24.7m which should be invested in local communities.

Last night, one Suffolk county councillor admitted that authorities had problems knowing what to do with the money and said councillors were “scratching their heads thinking what to spend it on”.

The money has been paid by developers under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for community projects and improvements.

Last year, Suffolk's councils' were criticised after the EADT discovered they were holding �24.2m. But following a Freedom of Information request, the new figures show that one year on, they are holding about half-a-million pounds more with the total now standing at �24.7m.

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Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance said: “Suffolk council's are still sitting on a huge amount of taxpayers' money that should have been invested in community projects. Either they don't need this money, in which case it should be given back in tax cuts, or they do need it and have simply neglected to spend it. Whichever is true, this situation is deeply unsatisfactory and must be resolved as soon as possible.”

Suffolk County Council - which recently announced that services in the county are facing savage cuts of more than 25% - is holding �12.644m compared to �12.558m last year.

John Sayers, a county councillor for Sudbury, said the public needed to be aware of section 106 money and help come up with ideas on how to spend it.

He said: “Authorities have problems thinking up stuff and then it sits there. It is just accumulating and then the question is asked what happens if we get the reorganisation of local government and it might all end up in a central pot.

“Everyone is scratching their heads thinking what to spend it on.”

A number of authorities have seen large increases in the past year in the money they are holding from section 106 agreements. Ipswich Borough Council's balance has increased from �2.9m to �4.8m. St Edmundsbury Borough Council has seen an increase from �630,625 to �2.6m while Forest Heath District Council's balance has jumped from �286,247 to �1.1m.

After being contacted by the EADT, a number of councils said the money from section 106 agreements was for specific projects and could not be spent on anything else. This includes Ipswich Borough Council which said �1.4m was towards the upkeep of play areas over the next decade. Suffolk Coastal District Council said it had secured �225,000 towards improvements and enhancements to Woodbridge town centre.

A Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said: “We bring in large amounts of money from developers, which is spent across the life of the construction of a development which in many cases is over several years so we will always have money in this pot but it is all allocated to specific infrastructure projects.

“This money comes to us as a condition of the planning permission and cannot be added to the county council's general budget. If the money is not spent on the specific infrastructure identified in the legal agreement the money has to be returned to the developers.”

2008 2009

Suffolk County Council �12.558m �12.644m

Babergh DC �1,625,033m �1,170,322m

Mid Suffolk DC �384,002 �325,000

St Edmundsbury BC �630,625 �2,565,000m

Suffolk Coastal DC �3,435,967m �280,920

Waveney DC �2,401,205m �1,759,785m

Forest Heath DC �286,247 �1.1m

Ipswich BC �2,921,274m �4,832,071m

TOTAL �24.2M �24.7M