The Infrastructure Contributions and Spend Manager presented the report to the Committee and briefly explained the main points. She said that the Annual Infrastructure Funding Statement Report 2019-20 would be published on the Council’s external website in an accessible format.
Councillors Pope, Huggins and Ward-Booth asked whether the Infrastructure Contributions and Spend Manager was satisfied that enough work had been done to ensure that all Members were aware of unassigned Section 106 contributions in their wards and when these must be utilised by.
The Manager said she worked through historic Section 106 payments, focussing initially on the contributions which were closest to reaching the deadline by which the funds needed to be spent. Members had been contacted where there were unallocated contributions in their ward. There was further work to be done, but the only scenario in which Members may not have been contacted would be if the agreement’s wording meant there was a tightly defined use for the funds which had not yet been triggered.
Members should be aware of available contributions in their ward with looser definitions, such as outdoor sport facilities, which was a common defined purpose as there was a general need for more of these facilities within East Herts. Developers generally did not have the local knowledge of smaller community groups which could utilise the funds. Therefore, Members were asked for potential project recommendations.
Councillor Stowe asked about a particular unallocated contribution which was to be used for outdoor sports facilities. This was offered in Aston, but was not available for a project in Datchworth, which had been a disappointment to some residents.
The Manager said that in this particular case there was an existing facility in Datchworth, which meant it hadn’t been considered as an appropriate area to spend the funds. There was no defined distance which must exist between two similar projects funded by Section 106 contributions, but Officers had to consider whether there was a similar facility within the ‘vicinity’ and there was in this particular case.
The Chairman asked whether funds allocated for outdoor sports facilities could be used for improving cycling infrastructure.
The Manager said that in some cases cycling infrastructure could be considered outdoor sporting facilities. She had discussed this with the Executive Member for Environmental Sustainability as he had been keen to encourage cycling across the district. There had also been quarterly meetings with Hertfordshire County Council, who managed Section 106 contributions for sustainable transport and highways across the county, to explore possible collaboration to increase the scope of suitable projects.
The Chairman asked for reassurance that the Council was doing all it could to ensure contributions were received from developers before the time period in which they were to be utilised ended, which had previously been a potential danger.
The Manager said lots of work had been done to chase developers from which contributions were outstanding, and compound interest was charged on late payment fees. She said that since coming into post, she had undertaken a review on all outstanding contributions. The Council had recently received a long outstanding contribution from the parent company of a dissolved company after taking legal advice and working with an insolvency practitioner.
The Chairman asked whether the number of affordable homes given in the Annual Infrastructure Funding Statement Report was the total number of affordable homes built in 2019-20, or only those that stemmed from Section 106 contributions. He also asked how financial contributions made in lieu of affordable housing were spent.
The Manager said that the figure represented the total number of affordable homes specified in the Section 106 agreements signed in 2019-20, which may include homes not yet built. Financial contributions in lieu of the construction of affordable homes were made often when the developer did not have space to construct the affordable homes on the same site. The money was then allocated to a capital budget to use on affordable housing across the district. It was then the responsibility of the Property Service to identify appropriate projects. The Manager said she did not have to hand information on how these funds were spent exactly, but it was agreed this could be investigated and shared with Members.
Councillor Alder asked whether Thorley Parish Council would be eligible to apply for some of the Section 106 contribution from the development on the Land off Whittington Way, Bishop's Stortford, or if this would be allocated to Bishop’s Stortford Town Council.
The Manager said she would investigate and revert to Councillor Alder. The Chairman asked how contributions for open space and ground maintenance had been used.
The Manager said that the Council often asked for contributions towards maintenance for a number of years, for example, when developers had paid for a playground. This was standard practise to avoid the maintenance costs becoming a burden on the Council. She added that she had now received the Council’s proposed response to Central Government’s planning white paper consultation and it was agreed that this would be circulated to Members.
RESOLVED – that the report, the Planning for the Future White Paper of August 2020 and the Annual Infrastructure Funding Statement Report be received.