MILLIONS of pounds of Government funding which was intended to protect vulnerable communities from coastal erosion is gathering interest in council bank accounts nearly three years after being awarded – and could end up being spent on schools, roads and street lighting.
Only around a third of the £7.9m given to the five biggest Coastal Change Pathfinder projects has been used, and almost 20 per cent of the entire £11m budget risks being “lost” to other council spending priorities owing to a lack of ring-fencing when the scheme was launched by Labour in 2009.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which administers the scheme, admits it cannot ask for the money back and now has no control over how the remaining funds are spent.
The lack of financial control over the scheme’s delivery is revealed by the Yorkshire Post today, barely a fortnight since visitors were warned to stay away from cliff tops in the East Riding after 12ft of crumbling clay fell into the sea on one of the fastest eroding coastlines in Europe.
The programme has led to contrasting fortunes for local authorities in the region, with East Riding Council, which has allocated all its £1.2m, appealing for more funds, while Scarborough Council has spent only two per cent of the £1.02m it was given after failing to reach an agreement with residents – the lowest spend of any of the 15 Pathfinder councils.
The East Riding authority has spent only 40 per cent of the grant it received in December 2009, but insists it has helped or offered support to all households at “imminent risk”, and has given assurances the remaining funds will only be used to tackle coastal erosion.
The delays and uncertainty have prompted calls for the Pathfinder councils to honour their commitments to use the money for its intended purpose.
Anne McIntosh, Tory MP for Thirsk and Malton, whose Filey constituency includes a site rejected by residents seeking to leave under-threat Knipe Point, Scarborough, said: “It’s a modest sum of money but it could make a big difference. If Labour had really cared about this they would have made cast-iron guarantees that the money could only be used for the purpose it was intended.”
Hilary Benn, Labour’s Environment Secretary when Pathfinder was launched, said: “When we allocated the money – in response to bids from local authorities – it was everybody’s expectation that they would spend it on the projects for which they had asked for support. It is for the councils in question to explain why there have been delays in getting on with their projects.”
A spokeswoman for Defra said: “We funded a number of schemes to help local communities tackle adaptation to coastal change. These have not only benefited local communities, but also increased our knowledge and understanding of coastal adaptation.”