Harrogate Pinewoods misses out on £32,000 of money taken from housing developers due to admin error - leaving charity furious

Pinewoods Conservation Group has criticised Harrogate Council after an administrative error meant £32,400 that should have been spent improving the woodland over the last 10 years was not allocated.

The Pinewoods is a 96-acre woodland close to the Valley Gardens that is popular with walkers and is owned by HBC. Whilst the area is managed by the council, PCG is a charity set up to promote its maintenance and conservation.

Near to the Pinewoods there have been a flurry of new housing developments in recent years. After being granted planning permission, developers agree to pay money to the council, through section 106 agreements, that is then spent improving local infrastructure used by the public.

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Since 2019, PCG has pressed the council to allocate some of this section 106 money to the Pinewoods to improve things like footpaths and signage.

Pinewoods in HarrogatePinewoods in Harrogate
Pinewoods in Harrogate

After a council report in January revealed the authority had £3.7m in unspent section 106 money, the charity again asked it if any of this money could be spent on the Pinewoods before HBC is abolished in 2023.

But in an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Tim Myatt, Conservative cabinet member for planning, told the charity that this money had already been committed to other sites.

The charity responded by saying it was “very surprised” that section 106 money would not be spent on the Pinewoods, “especially with the amount of building work underway and planned within the area”.

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However, Cllr Myatt responded to the charity again this week to say that following an investigation by officers, HBC found three instances when money, worth a combined valued of £32,400, should have gone to the Pinewoods but didn’t due to “administrative and processing” errors.

In the email, Cllr Myatt apologised and said the money could have been “put to good use” by either PCG or HBC. He said:

“I would like to take the opportunity to apologise for this error, as it was an opportunity to bring external money to enhance the Pinewoods. I know that you will find this frustrating and I share this frustration. Whilst the monies would have been allocated to the space, not awarded directly to the conservation group, it could still have been put to good use by either the council or conservation group (were an enhancement scheme available for fund allocation)”.

A spokesperson for Pinewoods Conservation Group said it was “very disappointed” that the Pinewoods had missed out on the money due to the error. They added:

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“These monies could have supported much needed improvement and conservation efforts for the benefit of visitors and residents. We are also disappointed that it took over three years from the charity first raising concerns with the council for the errors to acknowledged, and hopefully now corrected. However, we thank and acknowledge the efforts of Cllr Myatt in finally bringing this matter to a close.”

A HBC spokesperson said: “Due to an administrative processing error, monies were not collected from three developments via section 106 legal agreements that could have been spent on the Pinewoods.

“We have put measures in place to help prevent this from happening in the future.

“The monies do not go directly to the charity, but are earmarked for enhancements to Pinewoods. And as landowner, we continue to undertake woodland management and enhance the Pinewoods, in partnership with the charity.”