West Midlands planning money remains 'unspent'

Almost £70m of planning "gain" money remains unspent by councils in the West Midlands.

Freedom of Information requests to all councils across the region revealed some of them had not spent money given to them by developers.

Staffordshire County Council and Warwick District Council have not yet sent in any figures.

Of those that did, Warwickshire County Council has the most with £10.9m.

Developers and councils use section 106 agreements to ensure communities affected by development benefit through community facilities, education projects and road improvements.

Warwickshire County Council said the money had been accumulated over a number of years and was spent within strict guidelines.

"Whilst some of the contributions can be used straight away to implement identified schemes, some contributions are often made in stages, for example when a particular percentage of a development has been completed," a spokesman said.

"Therefore, some S106 funds are retained by the council to be spent in the future at a time appropriate to the development."

Worcestershire County Council currently has £4m in unspent money.

'Can take time'

Councillor Derek Prodger MBE, the council's cabinet member for transport and safe environment, said spending 106 money was "a process".

"It's a process of getting a lot of people on board, not just ourselves but the public, to see what they would like the 106 money spent on to improve that location for whatever reason. That can take time," he said.

Lady Sarah Gauntlett-Shea, a planning consultant who regularly deals with 106 agreements, said problems generally lay with administration.

"I think the nub of the problem is not the section 106 procedure, it's the implementation, monitoring and making the sure the money goes to where it's actually supposed to go," she said. "It's more a procedural and administration problem."

In Birmingham, the city council has £1.5m of Section 106 money.

In Coventry, where the council currently sits on £2m, one the biggest developments in the West Midlands - the Ricoh Arena - has not delivered on a 106 promise to build a train station within 12 months of the arena launching. It was officially opened in February 2007.

Councillor Kevin Foster, shadow cabinet member for strategic finance and resources for Coventry City Council, said: "106 agreements are a key part of delivery and development and if we get held up in bureaucracy like we have with this rail project then it can jeopardise the future of regeneration."

'Amber light'

The government recently gave the Ricoh railway station project "the amber light".

"Many people in Coventry feel frustrated it's taken longer to build the station at the Ricoh than it took to build the mainline to London in the 19th Century, and there's an irony in that," Councillor Foster said.

However, the council also has an example of when a section 106 agreement did work well.

A new community centre was built at a new housing development on the site of a former social club.

The developer proposed the centre as a 106 agreement after listening to concerns from residents about the loss of community facilities, Councillor Foster said. The planning process for that took up to two years.

For more information on section 106 money watch Inside Out West Midlands on Monday at 1930 GMT.

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