Councillors are set to scrutinise how effectively St Helens Council utilises developer contributions.
Section 106 agreements, often referred to as developer contributions, are legal agreements between developers and local authorities attached to a planning application to make a development that would not otherwise be acceptable in planning terms, acceptable.
In recent years councils across the country have been sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of unspent developer contributions.
A Freedom of Information request to St Helens Council by the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that between 2013-14 to 2017-18, the council received more than £4.1 million in developer contributions.
Of that money, around £3 million remained unspent.
This week the council’s environment, regeneration, housing, culture and leisure overview and scrutiny panel met to discuss its upcoming work programme.
Labour’s John Fulham, chairman of the panel and former cabinet member for growth, told members he wanted the panel to look at how the council is going to address section 106 payments.
He said the council needs to make sure that it is spending the accumulated pot of section 106 funds or else it will “vanish”, adding that it will impact its ability to ask central government for further funds.
Labour’s Pam Howard, who was recently elected to represent Earlestown, said looking at the council’s handling of section 106 funds should be a “key priority” for the panel.
Coun Howard said: “I think it’s a shame that there’s money sat there in funds that’s been provided by developers to enhance the areas where they’ve commercially developed things or built properties.
“And I think that we really do need to look at that and make sure that those funds are utilised in these times of austerity.
“So, I would support that as key priority for us.”
Coun Fulham said the council’s ability to effectively utilise section 106 funds is often impacted by a lack of uncontaminated land to develop on.
He also pointed to 2,000 staff the council has lost since 2010 and the reduction in market activity.
“Often where the 106 monies have come in, it might be where they’ve said we don’t want to build affordable housing on this development, so here’s a lump sum and you can go and provide it somewhere else,” Coun Fulham said.
“And then the council have got to find a spot to put the additional development on.
“And if we’ve not got the bandwidths, we haven’t got the staff to do the job, then the money just kind of sits there and it sits around, and it drags.”
All of the suggestions for the scrutiny panel’s upcoming work programme will be put forward to the overview and scrutiny commission next month.