Hertfordshire County Council has been criticised for failing to spend £56 million in community money – the highest amount among English authorities.

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The council has obtained the funds through Section 106 agreements with developers, whereby an amount of money is given to offset the impact planning projects have on the community.

The money is then assigned for a certain use, and can help fund a range of council-backed services such as schools, libraries, transport and roads.

The Conservative-controlled county council was found to have the most unspent S106 money of the 316 local authorities in England which responded to a BBC Freedom of Information request. The remaining 37 authorities did not respond.

It has also been revealed that £691,000 in S106 money had to be returned to developers by the county council in a five-year period up to April, 2013, as it had not been spent in time. For the past financial year, £45,000 was returned.

Royston Labour party spokesman Les Baker, who was the party’s Royston candidate at the county council elections last year, said: “This is supposed to be community money.

“To have to returned £691,000 to developers is an absolute scandal and at the same time Herts County Council is still sitting on £56 million which could be used to provide improvements.

“This is certainly a case where questions need to be raised at County Hall and I have asked our Labour county councillor to look into the matter in the hope that money from planning agreements will be properly used and not have to be returned to developers.

“Giving the money back to developers after all the rigmarole of coming to planning agreements just does not make sense.”

Derrick Ashley, cabinet member for resources and transformation at the county council, said: “Getting the most from our resources is of vital importance to us and I appreciate some people might think we should spend this money elsewhere. However, there are strict legal limitations on how Section 106 money can be spent. Money provided through S106 agreements can only be used for the purposes set out in the agreement and not for other purposes.

“It is often the case that the funding cannot be spent until a development has reached a certain stage, which is why many of the agreements have lengthy expiry dates and why we hold sums of Section 106 money.”

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