Mole Valley community groups call for council to release developer cash for new projects

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CASH FOR THE COMMUNITY: Ashtead Recreation Ground is one of the projects that received Section 106 money – but now more groups are calling for access to the fund

By Dorking Advertiser  |  Posted: January 09, 2015

By Michael Davies

 

CASH FOR THE COMMUNITY:  Ashtead Recreation Ground is one of the projects that received Section 106 money – but now more groups are calling for access to the fund

COMMUNITY groups in Dorking and Leatherhead have called on Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) to fund their projects after it was revealed the authority was potentially sitting on millions of pounds in unspent developer contributions.

As we reported last week, the council has received more than £3 million in Section 106 (S106) payments from house builders in the last ten years. The cash is supposed to reduce the impact of housing developments by giving communities the means to improve local amenities such as play areas, highways, public transport and schools.

But MVDC has spent only £50,854 in the past five years, despite receiving £1,262,517 from developers in that period.

This week, groups called on the council to release more of the money to them – or reveal what it has been spent on.

Leatherhead resident Flip Cargill, who has been campaigning for village green status to be given to Leach Grove Wood in the town in order to protect it from future development, said the some of the money should be spent on improving open spaces and areas for wildlife.

She told the Advertiser: “I would say that it would be good to see some of this money benefiting our natural areas, with Teazle and Leach Grove Woods in mind.

“Reading last week’s article, and elsewhere, it seems that the powers that be have very little connection or affinity for our wilder spaces.

“Leach Grove Wood may only be a small space, not much left now, and not as precious as Cherkley was, but it is much-loved and used by locals, adults and kids. Woodlands School children have been enjoying it for many years.

“Help securing it for future generations is on my wish list. Civilised play spaces certainly have their benefits but the freedom and wonder of woods and our connection with nature is vital for our survival.”

Lucy Quinnell, owner of the Fire and Iron gallery in Oxshott Road, Leatherhead, said: “There are an awful lot of causes in Leatherhead that have gone unfunded or underfunded. If it has not been saved for a particular reason that would be a big concern.”

The artist, who has worked on projects funded by Section 106 money several times in the past, added: “You don’t have to spend very much of it to have a really big and lasting impact on a community.

“In places around the country where it has been it can have an incredible effect and it can have an impact that grows, so a relatively small project can then do a lot of good very quickly.”

Mole Valley Green Party spokesman Chris Cook added: “People have spoken to us about lots of ideas for projects which we think are great and could be funded from this money.

“Three ideas are improved facilities in our parks to make them more welcoming and enjoyable, especially to young families, a fund to help people insulate their homes, and solar panels on council properties.”

Sally Elias of Community Hub In Pippbrook (CHIP), a group trying to save Dorking’s former library from development, said the council had questions to answer.

“The lack of community spend is shocking, whichever way it’s viewed,” she said. “Is it incompetence in that the council ‘forgot’ the money is there? Is it bad planning? Is it, as so often seems to happen, ‘rules’ getting in the way of it being invested in the community?”

Fellow CHIP member Heather Ackroyd added: “It raises many questions about why such a large amount of money designated for the community remains unspent.

“What is happening to the interest generated from the money? Who takes responsibility for S106 spending decisions at MVDC, and how is the community genuinely represented in these decisions?”

Among the projects to have received funding since 2011 is the new skate park at Meadowbank in Dorking and a playground at The Brocus in Newdigate.

Jacquetta Fewster of community group Transition Dorking will meet MVDC this week to bid for funds for a solar panel canopy for the St Martin’s Walk car park.

She said: “Transition Dorking has ideas for several projects which would require funding.

“We estimate the [solar panel] project will pay back its costs and start to raise income for council coffers after around eight years, but funds need to be found to get the project off the ground in the first place. This pot of money could well provide the solution.”

Council spokesman Paul Newman told the Advertiser around half of the unspent money was “ring-fenced for projects in Dorking or Leatherhead, where the majority of development has taken place”.

He said: “£350,000 is committed for town centre projects in Leatherhead, where public consultation has reached an advanced stage for improvements in Church Street and design work is well under way.

“£300,000 is committed for town centre projects in Dorking, where £150,000 is being spent on enhancements to street paving and furniture in West Street and discussions are under way underway for further improvements elsewhere in the Dorking conservation area.

“Smaller sums are available for improvements in surrounding villages; discussions are taking place with Headley Parish Council and Bookham and Fetcham Residents’ Associations.”

He added that £4,149 of developers’ contributions has been spent on recycling so far this financial year, with a projected total of £6,000 for 2014/15.