Council's ‘windfall cash’ spending record defended

Coun Dave Griffin
Coun Dave Griffin

Barnsley Council’s record on spending ‘windfall’ cash provided by housing developers has been defended by a councillor in a district where the authority has been frequently accused of syphoning money off to be spent elsewhere.

When new housing estates are built or green space is lost, councils can now charge a fee to help offset the impact that has on the communities affected, under a system called a Section 106 agreement.

It was introduced nationally to provide compensation for communities affected by growth, but there is no legal commitment to invest the cash collected in the area immediately around a development and that has led to repeated accusations in Penistone that money paid as a result of developments in that district gets spent elsewhere in the borough.

Money is frequently allocated to schemes such as improving parks or paying for the additional school places needed to support an increased population.

In the last few days, a council decision to grant planning permission for a car park on a school playing field has become the subject of debate in Penistone because part of the approval includes paying £18,000 in a Section 106 fee, with some already suggesting the money may not be used to benefit the immediate area.

However Coun Dave Griffin, who represents the Penistone West ward on Barnsley Council, has researched spending of Section 106 awards in that district in recent years and has established virtually all the money has gone into improving the locality.

He said: “Looking back from a planning application in 2006 until now, it would appear all the money for education, public open space and employment has been spent either in Penistone West or Penistone East, apart from £2,500 at Higham Cricket Club.

“The one area where money has migrated is affordable housing.

“I think there has been some success in getting developers to build affordable housing in Penistone West, such as Lairds Way and Hartcliffe Meadows.”

However, developers are able to use a ‘loophole’ which allows them to argue against having to provide either affordable homes or pay cash compensation if they can demonstrate it would affect their profits too badly.

Some Penistone developments have resulted in cash payments, then used to build affordable homes elsewhere in the borough.

But under the proposed Local Plan, which is due to be introduced within months, the council will have a sliding scale of expectations for building firms, with developments in the Penistone district – where property prices are high – earmarked for 30 per cent affordable homes while the percentage in the east of the borough, where homes are cheaper, will be only half that.

Coun Griffin added: “There has been major investment in Penistone in its open spaces, its sports grounds and schools from Penistone West Section 106 payments.

“It would be completely inaccurate to suggest that, apart from affordable housing, this money has migrated to the east of Barnsley.”

Coun Griffin is a member of the council’s planning board, which decides on major applications, and said he would be using that position to press for as much affordable housing as possible in the district in future.