Essex: Council sits on �10m schools planning cash

ESSEX County Council has defended sitting on almost �10million of schools planning cash obtained through legal agreements with developers.

Figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request show the council received �24.5m in developer contributions for education projects, called Section 106 agreements.

However, only �14.8m has been spent, leaving �9.7m sitting in council coffers.

The council said this amount is not a lot over a ten-year period bearing in mind the size of the county and smaller contributions often have to be pooled until there is enough cash to invest in a large project. They also said some money is already in the capital programme or earmarked for education projects.

Education contributions mitigate the effect of a new housing development increasing the number of pupils attending local schools. The money is then used to build or extend schools where and when required.

An Essex County Council (ECC) spokesperson said: “Developer contributions towards education are secured to provide additional school places and careful planning is required to ensure that projects meet the council’s legal obligations and that the aspirations of local parents are delivered in a cost-effective manner.

“Over a ten-year period �10m is actually not a lot across the whole of the county of Essex but there are two main reasons why contributions are held over what appears to be an extended period.

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“Firstly, small contributions often need to be pooled to deliver a suitable project. Contributions are therefore held until other developer contributions, or alternative funding, is secured to proceed with an appropriate substantive expansion project.

“Secondly, demand for school places from a new housing development is not there immediately but builds up over time. It is therefore common to be some way into the development before a new school is needed, and it would clearly be inappropriate to provide surplus places before required.

“Banking contributions allows the council to minimise risk; respond as soon as data suggests need is materialising and plan expenditure in a way that maximises value for money.”

Money received by the council for highways projects over the same period totalled �25.8m, with just over �21.5m already spent.

But ECC admitted �400,000 of highways receipts had to be returned to developers because the deadline for using it had expired.