Councils sitting on a £15.7m treasure chest

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A nest egg of £15.7 million of housing developers’ cash is waiting to be spent by the district and county councils on Cherwell community projects, it has been revealed.

The money, paid by developers as a condition for planning permissions on building projects of more than ten units, will be used to construct facilities including schools, affordable housing, bus services, road improvements, sport and play provision.

Cherwell District Council confirmed this week it has £4.5 million of Section 106 money in its coffers, while Oxfordshire County Council has £11.2 million for projects in the district.

Following widespread national media coverage showing some councils have been forced to return funds to developers after missing spending deadlines linked to all section 106 money, or are holding onto funds accruing interest, Cherwell’s Labour group leader Sean Woodcock called for answers on how and when the district council cash will be spent.

He said: “We would like to know how long this money has been there, what conditions were attached to it and when communities will feel the benefit of it.

“Section 106 money should be going into the communities and not just sitting in a bank vault gaining interest for the district council.”

Cherwell spokesman Jemma Callow said interest is only ever added to the funds for which it is specifically earmarked and the council had never missed deadlines or been forced to return money to developers. However, she admitted the gap between receipt of S106 funds and the development of facilities has been lengthening because of the “slowdown” in building of developments.

Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Paul Smith said it is “normal” for balances to accrue in Section 106 accounts because of the need to “await contributions from a number of developments” so the council can afford to complete projects.

He added balances of ‘unspent cash’ may also arise because payments are often made in instalments as a development is built in stages, and there may be a need for the council to wait for “sufficient contributions” to be collected before infrastructure schemes can be built.

Cherwell District and Oxfordshire County Councils both clearly stated this week all of their Section 106 money is allocated to specific schemes or is “provisionally allocated”. Both stated they had never missed deadlines for spending.