Councils sitting on £22 million in unspent money earmarked for developing Lancashire

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A JPIMedia investigation has revealed that more than £22 million given to Lancashire’s councils by developers has yet to be spent. TOM EARNSHAW reports.

Lancashire’s councils are sitting on more than £22m given to them to by developers to pay for community projects.

Just some of the number projects earmarked to receive Section 106 money

Just some of the number projects earmarked to receive Section 106 money

The exclusive revelation of the mountain of cash comes from new data acquired by JPIMedia revealing that in the last five years, £30.05m has been paid to eight of the Red Rose county’s councils, with £22.55m still to be spent.

The money is provided by developers as part of ‘section 106’ legal agreements – money that is provided to councils to invest on the likes of new parks, roads, and affordable housing that are deemed necessary as a result of new development such as housing estates.

Of the unspent cash pile, £4.29m is sitting in accounts as money unallocated to any projects.

The money has to be returned to developers if not used within legally agreed time frames in the section 106 agreements.

West Way Sports Hub (Image: Chorley Council)

West Way Sports Hub (Image: Chorley Council)

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests were submitted to eight Lancashire councils for payments between 2014/15 and 2018/19.

Chorley Council is sitting on the largest reserve, with £8.3m unspent, followed by South Ribble Council with £4.4m and Fylde Council with £3.922m.

Here we examine the data from each local authority, exploring what projects are being financed by the cash reserves.

Central Lancashire

Guild Wheel (Image: JPIMedia)

Guild Wheel (Image: JPIMedia)

Our Freedom of Information requests found that Chorley Council is sitting on the largest reserve, with £8.3m yet to be spent.

Of that, £3m has been allocated to play and open space projects – £1m in transport projects; £700,000 in maintenance of community centre and play and open spaces; and more than £1m to support housing in the borough, including funding extra care accommodation.

A further £2m remains unallocated but a spokesman for the council’s FOI department said: “There are a number of projects that this funding will be allocated to in the coming year(s)”.

Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, added: “The s106 contributions are really important as they fund major projects and we’ve already got plans for pretty much all of it.

Ingol Health Centre (Image: Google Maps)

Ingol Health Centre (Image: Google Maps)

“It’s vital we get the projects right and sometimes that means collating sums of money from different places and it can take time to get that all in place.

“A significant amount of the money will be going towards the major improvement programme of our parks and open spaces and projects such as Westway playing fields and it will be contributing to the costs of Primrose Gardens extra care accommodation.”

In Preston, £3.35m is sitting unspent. Projects that the money has been earmarked for include £457,000 towards ‘healthcare improvements’; £333,093 for canal towpath and cycle way improvements; and £62,954 for Guild Wheel contributions.

Preston Council is still to allocate £307,327 of the money.

Chris Hayward, director of development at Preston Council, explained: “While consulting on planning applications, the need for road or footway improvements, pedestrian crossings, signalised junctions, cycle paths or public transport considerations arise.

“These requests from statutory consultees are then secured in a legal agreement, known as a section 106. They can also include contributions to improve health facilities and schools, as well as to provide affordable housing.

The former McKenzie Arms site (Image: JPIMedia)

The former McKenzie Arms site (Image: JPIMedia)

“Since 2013, £2m of the £5m held in the accounts has been spent on schemes across the city.

“Almost a further £1m is allocated to upcoming major schemes (such as) improvements and expansion to the health centre at Ingol, and upgrades to the canal tow path between Ashton basin and Cottam, which allows cycle pathway connectivity.

“Officers work closely with colleagues at Lancashire County Council to try and ensure monies are spent on the specified schemes as soon as is practically possible.”

The council also revealed it is investing £800,000 of contributions in the multi-million pound Making Homes from Houses project, in partnership with Community Gateway Housing Association and Homes England. something it says is “turning empty properties into affordable housing, with a focus on tackling homelessness.

South Ribble Council has £4.4m still to spend, all of which has been allocated to projects, with £3.17m dedicated solely to affordable housing.

“All of the open space and infrastructure s106 monies have been allocated,” explained Gary Hall, interim chief executive at South Ribble Council.

“This will fund a four-year programme of predominately capital works which includes a programme of ‘Green Links’ and My Neighbourhood Plans.

“This programme will see up to 7km of new and improved green links in the borough along with upgrades to play areas and playground equipment and infrastructure improvements to parks with associated regeneration works.

“The council also has two affordable housing schemes being progressed in Bamber Bridge – Station Road and the former McKenzie Arms site – totalling approximately £2.4m.

“£400,000 is also held on behalf of Lancashire County Council, to be paid over on completion of specific highways and public transport works.”

The Fylde

On the Fylde, it is Fylde Council that is sitting on the largest reserve, with £3.9m unspent and £803,000 of this yet to be allocated to projects.

Of the cash earmarked for specific projects, some £55,000 will go towards improvement of the South Promenade gardens in St Annes; £150,000 towards supporting the provision of personnel responsible for protecting and maintaining the coast and environmental assets on the Fylde Coast; and more than £400,000 towards affordable housing across Fylde.

A council spokesman added: “We can confirm the monies held have been collected in a timely manner and at the appropriate development triggers specified in the various legal agreements.

“Each agreement specifies what each sum can be spent on and by what date, this is normally between five and 10 years and gives the council time to fully work up a plan to ensure contributions made are spent appropriately.

“The £3,922,397 quoted, includes recent significant contributions – £2,030,000 – that have come in towards provision of affordable housing in the borough and £1,200,000 of contributions that have been made to Fylde for education provision in various parts of the borough.

“The council is in regular dialogue with a number of registered providers over how additional affordable housing can be delivered and with Lancashire County Council as the education authority over the delivery of additional educational investment in the borough using these monies.”

In Blackpool, £441,000 is unspent with £380,000 reported as yet to be committed to any projects.

Blackpool Council says this is because the “greater portion” of this sum was only received in 2018.

But they also clarified that the cash has recently been assigned to affordable housing, school places, and green infrastructure.

Alan Cavill, director of communications and regeneration at Blackpool Council, explained: “The greater portion of the £380,000 was only received last year so consideration has had to be given to its use.

“In addition, we do not necessarily spend all section 106 money in the short term as it may help contribute to a larger project or development in the future that requires greater financing.

“However, this £380,000 has now been allocated for future spend on specific projects and services.

“£151,000 will now be used to subsidise affordable housing, £111,000 will go towards ensuring that there is a sufficient number of school places in the borough in line with the council’s Pupil Place Planning, while the remaining £118,000 will be spent on implementing both the recently adopted Green and Blue Infrastructure and Open Space strategies.”

In Wyre, £456,000 remains unspent – all of which has been assigned to projects in the borough.

A council spokesman did not reveal what projects the money was assigned to apart from “delivering affordable housing schemes”.

They said: “We aim to spend all section 106 monies within the agreed timescales, which varies depending on the agreement.

“Tendering and implementing a project can be a lengthy process particularly when working with partners to deliver affordable housing schemes.

“While it may seem that the section 106 is remaining ‘unspent’, it is earmarked and monitoring is in place so that it is ultimately spent within the agreed deadline.”

And £67,100 for affordable housing as part of plans at the former auction mart in Lancaster Road, Pilling, was returned to developers.

The money was originally requested as part of a payment of £71,507 for off-site affordable housing as a result of the development.

North and east Lancashire

In Lancaster, £970,000 has yet to be spent with £595,000 yet to be assigned to projects in the city area.

Notably, a further £138,000 committed for investment in the city has also been returned to developers in the last five years after not being spent or allocated before agreed dates.

Lancaster Council was approached for clarity on the monies involved but was unable to respond in time.

A spokesman for the council did say that the process behind spending the cash is a “complex area” with factors “often outside the council’s control”.

They said: “The process behind the spending of s106 money is a complex area and subject to many factors that are often outside of the council’s control.

“The council, for example, is not always the authority responsible for spending the money, in which case it is limited to chasing the relevant spending authority, rather than spending the money itself.

“In some cases the s106 money received only forms part of the overall costs of a scheme, which can take many years to programme.

“Where this is the case, the money will be held in reserve until other funding is received or a scheme is ready to progress.

“Should this additional funding not be available, or a scheme stalls and is unable to proceed, the council is legally bound to return the contributions.

“In some cases, the circumstances change, meaning that the s106 money that has been secured is no longer required, such as when a developer addresses the issue in an alternative but equally acceptable manner.

“The return of s106 money only occurs in a small number of cases and the council works hard to ensure it is spent in the best possible way to benefit the district.”

In the Ribble Valley, £765,000 remains unspent with £205,000 unallocated.

Projects for the assigned money includes:

• £234,000 towards affordable housing within Longridge;

• £43,887 for open space funding in Longridge, specifically grass improvements at Mardale, cricket wicket provision at Longridge Cricket Club, sports hall improvements at Longridge Sports Club, and play facility improvements in the town;

• £15,000 for the Longridge Loop;

• £22,853.50 towards the future restoration, remediation and regeneration of the Primrose Lodge nature reserve.

Ribble Valley Council was approached for clarification on allocated and unallocated money but did not provide a response.

How much did each council get?

Section 106 money received by councils between 2014/15 and 2018/19:

• Preston: £5,444,255.39

• Blackpool: £441,971

• Chorley: £11,200,000

• South Ribble: £5,641,454

• Lancaster: £1,262,000

• Ribble Valley: £816,250

• Wyre: £540,804.68

• Fylde: £4,705,302.11

• TOTAL: £30,052,037.18

What is the money for?

Section 106 money, received by the council in the last five years, that remains unspent – and what projects are for:

Preston: £3,353,628.32

• This includes £457,788 for ‘healthcare improvements’; £333,093 for canal towpath and cycle way improvements; and £62,954 for Guild Wheel contributions.

Blackpool: £380,14

• The FOI said this has yet to be allocated but Blackpool Council has since clarified that it has been assigned to affordable housing, school places, and green infrastructure.

Chorley: £8,300,000

• £3m for play and open space projects;

• £1m for transport projects;

• £700,000 for maintenance of community centre and play and open spaces; and

• more than £1m to support housing in the borough including funding extra care accommodation.

South Ribble: £4,409,584

• Projects include £3.171m towards affordable housing; £398,000 for transport and highways; £738,000 for public infrastructure; and £102,000 for public open spaces.

Lancaster: £970,000

• £563,000 has been allocated to affordable housing and £470,000 towards transport, education, and open space projects.

Ribble Valley: £765,872

• Projects include £234,000 towards affordable housing within Longridge;

• £43,887 for open space funding in Longridge, specifically grass improvements at Mardale, cricket wicket provision at Longridge Cricket Club, sports hall improvements at Longridge Sports Club, and play facility improvements in the town;

• £15,000 for the Longridge Loop; and

• £22,853.50 towards the future restoration, remediation and regeneration of the Primrose Lodge nature reserve.

Wyre: £456,992.68

• Unspecified affordable housing schemes

Fylde: £3,922,397.10

• Projects include £55,745 towards the improvement of the South Promenade gardens in St Annes;

• £150,000 towards supporting the provision of personnel responsible for protecting and maintaining the coast and environmental assets on the Fylde Coast; and

• more than £400,000 towards affordable housing across Fylde.

TOTAL: £22,558,619.10

How much is left to spend?

Section 106 money, received by councils in the last five years, that remains unallocated:

• Preston: £307,327.96

• Blackpool: £380,145

• Chorley: £2,000,000

• South Ribble: £0

• Lancaster: £595,000

• Ribble Valley: £205,760

• Wyre: £0

• Fylde: £803,061.10

The cash they had to give back

Section 106 money, received by councils in the last five years, that has had to be returned due to not being spent or allocated before the agreed date:

• Preston: £10,760 (for highways improvements that were “no longer required”)

• Blackpool: £0

• Chorley: £0

• South Ribble: £0

• Lancaster: £138,000

• Ribble Valley: £0

• Wyre: £67,100 (for off-site affordable housing that was eventually built by the developer as part of their project)

• Fylde: £0

Longridge Cricket Club (Image: Google Maps)

Longridge Cricket Club (Image: Google Maps)