Decisions over the way large sums of public money provided by housing developers are spent in Barnsley are decided by a panel including only two elected councillors, it has emerged.
When housing schemes are planned, councils can stipulate that developers make payments to either pay for specific projects relating to the scheme – such as providing cash for extra school places – or for general improvements, meant to mitigate the impact of putting extra homes into a neighbourhood.
In Barnsley, where money is not earmarked for a specific purpose the decisions on how and where it is spent is made by a ‘strategic panel’ of senior officers and councillors – with Penistone Town Council being told only two elected members sit on that body, Coun Roy Miller – the ruling Cabinet’s spokesman for Place – and Coun Alan Gardiner, the council’s finance spokesman.
Town councillors were told that until recently, Coun Miller was the only elected member of the panel and they have expressed concerns that decisions about how funds are spent are made by councillors who do not represent the whole borough.
Coun Paul Hand-Davis, who represents the Penistone East ward on Barnsley Council and sits on Penistone Town Council, told fellow town councillors: “I think it is unfortunate that no other representatives of Barnsley Council are on that committee, the rest are officers.
“We never get consulted.”
Coun Steve Marsh said: “Going back some years a substantial amount of (Section 106) money was untouched for years.
“I was surprised to see it had disappeared to virtually nothing. The rest had been used for business development,” he said.
That was in an era where the town council was hoping such funding would have been available to finance a new transport interchange in the town, or other projects.
There have been longstanding concerns in the Penistone area, which has taken substantial housing developments in recent years, has not benefited from the investment of Section 106 money as expected.
Coun Marsh said: “I am just afraid all this Section 106 money will be drifting across the other side of the M1. It is scandalous if this is going to go on.”
Coun Miller said: “Section 106 money is spent in accordance with the terms of the legal agreement that was entered into when planning permission was granted. In some cases the legal agreements are specific but in others there is some flexibility.
“The reason for this flexibility is to ensure monies can be used to deliver large scale schemes that serve a wider area rather than just being confined local schemes serving a smaller area.
“When there is some flexibility within the legal agreement, proposals are assessed against six criteria by a strategic panel of senior officers and Councillors. This ensures that each proposal is considered objectively and the Council makes best use of the monies received.”
When deciding on how Section 106 payments are spent, the panel considers how proposed projects meet the council’s objectives, how much match-funding can be generated to make the 106 cash stretch further, how deliverable projects are, how much community support they generate and how successful a scheme is likely to be in terms of usage.