Millions of pounds given by developers to councils to pay for community projects has not yet been spent.
The “Section 106” cash is provided by developers for new parks and roads when they get planning consent for other schemes.
But around £8m remains unspent in and around central Lancashire, with £2m not yet allocated. Critics warn the cash can be taken back if it is not spent in time.
Freedom of Information requests were submitted to all 353 local authorities in England asking them to reveal what Section 106 payments they received between 2008/09 and 2012/13.
Preston Council said in the past five years it had received £1.8m of funds, £1.06m of which had been committed for projects, including cycle paths, but not yet spent.
Opposition group leader Coun Ken Hudson warned: “If they’re not careful and don’t spend the money, they have to give it back.”
Officers said this included money for things like public transport improvements, but did not provide specific details.
They revealed one payment of £43,215 was returned to a developer on September 8, 2010, because under the agreement, “the developer was entitled to a percentage back”.
However, when the Evening Post asked for clarification about the development and why the money was returned, the council said it couldn’t provide “commercially sensitive” details.
A council spokesman said: “The details of Section 106 agreements are confidential. In some cases, not all the funds are required, therefore part payment is returned.”
Coun Hudson represents Preston Rural North.
He said: “In Preston there is a lot of money for towpath improvements by Lancaster Canal. I’m not sure if Taylor Wimpey has parted with that yet, as part of the Haydock Grange development. I don’t think in the current climate, we should be giving any money back, and also when the council is strapped for cash on capital schemes. We should be more entrepreneurial because the details about some agreements are quite vague. I went to a meeting about the Fox development in Longridge, there was a Section 106 sum of £50,000, and nobody knew how they had arrived at it. The other problem is often the money is tied up until the day they start work on the development.”
South Ribble Council has received £1.06m of Section 106 cash for 28 projects since 2008/09. But it has only spent £58,123 for four schemes and committed £43,322 of the money for three projects, meaning it is sitting on £1.35m that has not yet been allocated.
The council’s deputy leader Peter Mullineaux said: “We are working on a number of proposals and expect to allocate a significant amount of the monies to these projects within the very near future. A considerable amount has to be used for affordable housing and for that we are reliant on other agencies.
“We have not had to return any of the money and work hard to ensure it is spent in the best possible way to benefit our South Ribble residents.”
Chorley Council began the five-year period with £5.7m of 106 funds in reserve, the majority of which was spent in 2011/12. It now has £2.26m in reserve, which it said had already been committed to future projects.
Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, said: “When developers build housing, they sometimes have to make financial contributions to meet any needs arising from the new development and that money has to be spent in the particular area where the development is. At the end of 2008/09 financial year, Chorley Council held a significant amount of section 106 money to finance the construction of Buckshaw Parkway railway station and that project was completed in 2011/12.
“Future commitments for the money include creating affordable housing schemes, contributing to highway improvement initiatives and continuing to improve play and recreation facilities.”
Lancashire County Council has a reserve of £1.59m of contributions. Marcus Hudson, head of planning, said: “Since 2008 we have received £3.33m, of which we have spent £2.45m on transport, school and library improvements. The nature of payments means we will always be in surplus as we collect contributions and save the money until there is a need to be addressed and sufficient funds to tackle that need.”
Lancaster Council said it would have £1.054m in Section 106 reserves at the end of this financial year.
It paid back £10,819 from £25,000 given by a developer in 2008/09 for highways improvements in Moneyclose Lane, because it said the works undertaken by the county council’s Highways Department cost less than anticipated.
West Lancashire Council has £1.79m of unspent cash from this period, plus a further £109,444 of 106 funds from before this time which remains unspent and unallocated, dating back to agreements with developers signed as long ago as 1999.
However, it has not had to make any repayments to developers and does not anticipate doing so.
A council spokesman said: “It should be noted that currently these Section 106s have 10 years from receipt of payment to be spent.
“All payments were received from 2008/09 onwards, and so no monies are due to be returned in the near future.”
Wyre Council has around 236,770 waiting to be spent, £13,270 of which has not yet been committed to projects.
Ribble Valley Council meanwhile said it had not paid any money back to developers.
A council spokesman confirmed it had £154,128 earmarked for future projects.