Shropshire parishes cry foul over £17 million grants they can't access
Millions of pounds set aside for projects like playgrounds are being denied to small towns and villages in Shropshire, it was claimed today.
Parish and town councils have accused Shropshire Council of keeping the funds for its own use.
The money is from the Community Infrastructure Levy, paid by developers when they build houses in the county.
It is supposed to pay for improvements to communities where the homes are being built. But today it is revealed that attempts to claim the money are being frustrated by Shropshire Council.
Around £17 million sits in the county’s Community Infrastructure Levy fund.
Of that, Child’s Ercall Parish Council should be eligible for £68,000 from developments it has approved.
But attempts to use the money to improve a playground in the village have been rebuffed. Instead the parish council was told the cash would be used to fund education projects in Market Drayton.
Parish chairman Leonard Sambrook said: “Shropshire Council is trying to change the rules.”
Broseley Town Council says it has also been frustrated accessing £500,000 that should be available for use on neighbourhood projects in the neighbourhood.
According to the authority’s own guidance, five per cent goes to Shropshire Council as an administrative fee, and 25 per cent to the local town or parish council where the development takes place – to be spent on ‘locally identified infrastructure projects’.
Of the remaining contribution, 10 per cent goes to Shropshire Council’s ‘strategic infrastructure fund’, and 90 per cent to a ‘local infrastructure fund’.
The council’s own website says the money in the local infrastructure fund, which amounts to £17 million according to the authority, is ‘to meet the infrastructure needs in the area where development takes place, as identified by town/parish councils within their place plans’.
But today it is revealed that town and parish councils are being frustrated in their efforts to access the money for projects that would benefit the people they serve.
Councillor Sambrook has also raised concerns that Shropshire Council wants to change the way the funds are allocated – moving them into larger ‘place areas’ so the funds for councils like Child’s Ercall could instead be used in larger towns like Market Drayton.
The suggestion was backed by a Shropshire Councillor who did not want to be named.
Councillor Sambrook said: “In November last year we identified that the play area needed refurbishing. Parts of it have been condemned by the insurers. It is a sad playground.
“At that point our understanding of Community Infrastructure Levy funding was very limited. Shropshire Council had not really educated the parishes about how they allocate the funding.
“We had a visit from someone in the department at Shropshire Council where they handle the funds and they suggested we apply for money from the fund.
“In December we had a visit from council leader Peter Nutting and he was full of praise for the playground application being exactly the type of thing we should be spending CIL funding on.”
Councillor Sambrook said they had submitted the application in December.
He added: “We waited and we waited and we waited. We would make an inquiry and get the response that ‘it is in, it is being reviewed’.
"We heard nothing until July 20 when we were told it was unsuccessful.”
Councillor Sambrook said they had then been told the money would instead be spent in Market Drayton – appearing to go against council policy that it must be spent in the area the development takes place.
He said: “We had a letter back from the council and she told us the money needed to be used for new classroom places in Market Drayton.”
Councillor Sambrook said he believes Shropshire Council is applying a new criteria to applications, despite it not being approved by the authority.
The council has insisted there is no new policy, but has declined to comment on whether it plans to change the way the funds are handed out.
Councillor Sambrook said: “We think it is trying to change the rules of the money being spent in the areas of place plans. If it changes it then the definition of how the money will be spent will always mean the money will be spent in the big towns because of the statutory requirements.”
Councillor Mark Garbett, who represents the West division on Broseley Town Council, said there was frustration over the difficulty in accessing the funds. He says there should be more than £500,000 available for use on neighbourhood projects in the town.
He said that Broseley had been waiting for 12 months for its place plan to be signed off by Shropshire Council so it can access the money.
“For the last 12 months we have been trying to get our CIL money off Shropshire Council. The council is holding millions that needs to be spread between local parishes," he said.
“The community has agreed to have these houses on the promise they can upgrade their facilities. Now they are stuck with a bigger population and no services.
“The council has already paid out some payments but it is telling us it cannot pay out because it does not have a mechanism to do so. The documentation has not been approved.
“But since it told us that we have found out it has paid out some payments. If there is a mechanism to be paid at the moment why can’t we be paid from that?”
What does Shropshire Council say?
In a statement Shropshire Council said it has not changed the way the money is handed out.
Spokesman Gareth Profitt said: “There has been no change in the Community Infrastructure Fund arrangements at Shropshire Council. Any decision to do so would have to go through the appropriate council decision-making process and appropriate consultation.
"All decisions made to date have been made against current CIL policy.”
Mr Profitt also insisted there was nothing wrong with the suggestion that Child’s Ercall funds would be used in Market Drayton.
He said: “At the last cabinet decision on CIL on July 29, 2015, it was agreed that ‘priority be given to using CIL ‘local’ funds to deliver appropriate critical infrastructure, or infrastructure required in order to fulfil the council’s statutory functions’.
“Decisions have been made to comply with this approach, to ensure that CIL funds are spent appropriately and diligently and that the statutory functions of the council are maintained and delivered.
"CIL is the responsibility of Shropshire Council to collect and administer in accordance with national regulations and policy and has to be spent on infrastructure to support the development of the area.
“Town and Parishes receive 15 per cent of CIL monies collected (or 25 per cent where there is a Neighbourhood Plan or Neighbourhood Development Order), as set out in national regulation.
"In this instance Child Ercall receives 15 per cent of CIL monies to spend on infrastructure to support the development of their area or addressing the demands that development places on their area , as they see fit in accordance with the regulations.”
Fear that changes could stop village developments
Changes to the way that a special housing levy, paid by developers, is handed out could bring an end to much needed homes being build in Shropshire villages, a councillor has warned.
Shropshire councillors will meet on Monday for a special briefing about the way the Community Infrastructure Levy is distributed. Cabinet will then debate the issue on November 9.
Many parish and town councils have complained that they have not received the funding they expected for infrastructure projects, following the building of new houses in their communities.
In rural areas the payment is £90 per square metre of new build and in urban areas £45 per square metre – which could add up to about £15,000 on a detached house.
Of that money, five per cent is taken for administration and 25 per cent to the individual town or parish council. Of the remaining money, 10 per cent to Shropshire Council’s strategic infrastructure fund and 90 per cent to the local infrastructure fund.
At this week’s meeting of Shropshire Council’s scrutiny committee councillors said they feared the CIL money would not go to individual parishes or small towns but to the larger, area place plans.
Councillor Gwilym Butler said: “We have to stick to what we told people in 2009, we can’t change it now. Spending the money within place plans isn’t what we said.”
Councillor Cecilia Mottram: “The CIL money was an incentive to encourage smaller parishes to accept market housing to bring in the levy. If they feel it is not going to benefit them by bringing in CIL they will say we want to opt out of out cluster, which they can do.
“They will batten down the hatches and there will be no more housing. Nobody understands where the money will be going. There is no proper answer There is total confusion.”
Chairman of scrutiny, Councillor Claire Wild, said: “We have to communicate much better with out town and parish councils.”
“This is the second time we have asked questions on CIL. We are asked in May, we are asking again. This is a contentious issue and we need some clear choices.”