Councillors blast Buckshaw Village 'not getting a penny' of developer cash
A furious row has broken out over whether money handed over by a housebuilder as part of the construction of the South Ribble section of Buckshaw Village should be spent on the village itself – or right across the borough.
Councillors representing residents of the 1,200 properties on the South Ribble side of the sprawling development – which straddles the border with Chorley, where there are a further 2,800 dwellings – say locals should have been consulted over a decision by South Ribble Borough Council to issue more than half a million pounds to schemes undertaken beyond the borders of the village.
But the authority’s leader claims that Buckshaw residents use many of the facilities elsewhere in the district – and so will still benefit from how the money is being spent.
More than £1.3m related to Buckshaw Village has been paid out to the council under what is known as a “section 106” agreement, which sees developers stump up cash or make other commitments that make their plans acceptable to the local authority where their developments are being built.
A meeting of South Ribble’s cabinet on Wednesday approved the use of £574,000 from the Buckshaw pot to fund largely-completed works to playgrounds and other open spaces throughout South Ribble. The projects include the refurbishment of play areas in Worden Park, Leadale Green and Seven Stars in nearby Leyland – but also facilities at Hurst Grange Park in Penwortham and Bellis Way in Walton-le-Dale, both of which are some six miles from the main Central Avenue route through Buckshaw.
The remainder of the allocation will be used on the Leyland Loop cycle pathway and a project in Tarn Wood in Penwortham.
Buckshaw and Worden Conservative ward councillor Caroline Moon questioned how spending some of the money at the opposite end of the borough could be said to benefit Buckshaw, which is a requirement laid down in a clause of the agreement between the council and housebuilder Persimmon Homes in relation to cash ringfenced for “public infrastructure”.
“If the developer had wanted to provide section 106 money to this council to spend anywhere on anything, they could have done that. Instead, they provided a lengthy…agreement that clearly identifies Buckshaw Village as the intended beneficiary of this money.
“If you go ahead with this, the people of Buckshaw Village are not going to benefit from a penny.
“They live there, they know their village – surely they are best placed to say whether or not the schemes benefit them,” added Cllr Moon, although she accepted that there was no legal duty on the council to consult with residents.
However, the Labour leader of the authority, Paul Foster, accused her of being “disingenuous” – and failing to understand the purpose of section 106 agreements.
“Developers pay the council…to support the local community that is impacted by the new developments. The local communities that [are] impacted by Buckshaw Village [are] Chorley, Leyland – [and] some would argue Bamber Bridge and Lostock Hall, it’s that wide-ranging.
“Are you saying that residents of Buckshaw Village don’t leave Buckshaw Village – don’t use Worden Park, don’t ever go out to Hurst Grange, don’t use the Leyland schools [and] doctors?,” Cllr Foster asked.
When he was later pressed by another Buckshaw and Worden ward councillor Alan Ogilvie on why residents of the development had not been asked how they wanted to see “their money” spent, Cllr Foster added:
“It’s not their money – that is the council’s money that has been allocated due to a development that has been built in Buckshaw Village.”
He also pledged to write to every Buckshaw household to explain the decision.
The meeting heard that the authority’s officers had confirmed that the proposed allocation of the money was legally sound.
However, Cllr Ogilvie said that was in contrast to the advice that he and Cllr Moon had often received from the council about the “constraints” on section 106 expenditure when they had put forward proposals for how to spend the Buckshaw-originated share of it over several years.
“We were not allowed by officers of this council to spend the money in that way. You have now been given, effectively, free reign to spend it when you wish [and] how you wish,” said Cllr Ogilvie.
He added that he had no problem with the use of the Buckshaw pot on Worden Park – which is around two miles away from the village – adding that the previous Conservative administration had allocated £150,000 to that central facility from Buckshaw development cash.
Cabinet members agreed to issue a total of £1.2m in section 106 money from a range of developments to more than 20 projects – with a report noting that many of them were “within a reasonable proximity of the [housing] site” or within two miles of it.
More than £481,000 in off-site affordable housing contributions originating from a development off Croston Road were allocated to schemes including the building of local authority housing on the site of the former McKenzie Arms pub in Bamber Bridge and a planned “extra care” assisted living scheme in the borough.
Cabinet member for finance Matthew Tomlinson described it as “an outrage” that one of the section 106 payments being issued at the meeting had first been paid by a developer in 2011 – and gone unspent for a decade.
“What we are doing is spending the…monies that have been given to this council by housebuilders to benefit our residents – what we are not doing is sitting on it and just waiting for a project that may or may not come about,” Cllr Tomlinson said.
He also highlighted that section 106 money originating from developments in the Golden Hill and Earnshaw Bridge areas was being spent “somewhere else”.
After deducting the latest allocation and previous spending from South Ribble’s Buckshaw section 106 fund, there is a balance of £284,000 arising from the development that is yet to be earmarked for use.
Recently-elected Conservative opposition leader Karen Walton said that she had contacted the Local Government Association (LGA) – at the request of her group – to seek advice about the proposed spending of section 106 cash.
She said that the body would “very much like to see all the paperwork” relating to the decision and had proposed that item on the agenda be deferred.
Cllr Foster said he was “gobsmacked” by what he had heard.
“Our statutory officers have made a decision – this will be subject to any external audit and any other view that is appropriate for local government.
This council, particularly the Conservative group, was warned by the external auditors to start listening to legal advice from our officers.”
Chief executive Gary Hall said he would be raising the matter with the LGA’s chief executive, describing the intervention as “wholly inappropriate”.
Separately, Cllr Alan Ogilvie warned that the developers who made the financial contributions in the first place were the "final arbiters" of how the money was spent.
Cllr Foster replied: "That's not true".
Mr. Hall explained: "We are required under the agreement to notify the developer - notify, not seek their agreement. But it is in the gift of the developer [as to whether] they feel that that is appropriate."
How the latest tranche of cash generated by the Buckshaw Village development will be spent in South Ribble:
Leyland Loop – £59,720
Worden Park playground – £23,290
Seven Stars playground – £175,000
Leadale Green playground – £35,280
Hurst Grange playground – £219,977
Bellis Way playground – £30,000
Tarn Wood – £30,990
Total - £574,257