Residents forum criticises council's use of community fund

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

A COUNCIL'S decision to use a community fund to buy and maintain an area of woodland for future generations has been criticised by residents.

Sedgefield Village Residents Forum (SVRF) believes the £45,000 set aside for the community in 2006 by the developers of a new housing estate would have been better spent on updating and replacing play equipment.

The group say Durham County Council failed to consult with residents and members are angry at the authority for holding on to the £8,000 interest the money has incurred over the years.

“The consultation process is farcical,” said Julia Bowles, chairman of SVRF.

“That is why we have got so many disillusioned people in communities who feel even when they come along and give their opinions they are not listened to.

“Residents already had access to the woodland and it does not make sense that in a time austerity, where cuts are being made to key services, the council would take on something with long term maintenance costs.”

The section 106 money was set aside for Sedgefield as a planning condition for the construction of the Cunningham Court estate.

It was initially held in trust by Sedgefield Borough Council and was passed onto Durham County Council when the unitary authority was formed in 2009.

Mrs Bowles said both councils had been determined to buy the woodland, which is located opposite Cunningham Court and Neville drive, despite residents’ objections.

“It wasn’t even for sale until last year, which is why this has taken so long,” she added.

Stephen Reed, planning development manager, said a clause in the agreement meant the funding had to be spent on a recreational project in the vicinity of the site.

“The money will not only pay for the purchase of the wood, to safeguard the space for future generations, but will also contribute to its on-going maintenance,” he said.

“It is council policy to hold all interest gained from any grants received separately, to cover other expenses incurred.

“While we can’t comment on Sedgefield Borough Council’s consultation policy, it is Durham County Council’s policy to consult with local groups such as town and parish councils, the Area Action Partnerships and local members when proposals are submitted to access section 106 funds.”

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