Debate rages over the allocation of £450,000 community money

Amble Welfare  has had the main grassed area cut.
Amble Welfare has had the main grassed area cut.

Concerns have been raised about the allocation of £450,000 of community benefit money which was secured after a major housing scheme was given approval.

The S106 financial contribution was agreed as part of Persimmon Homes’ Marks Bridge development in Amble. The 250-house scheme was given the nod in 2013.

Coun Grant Davey

Coun Grant Davey

The six-figure cash sum was earmarked for the provision of off-site affordable housing in the town and improvements at the Welfare.

But a debate has arisen as to how the money will be split.

In a letter to the town council, Northumberland County Council leader Grant Davey said the S106 money is flexible, with no definitive amounts allocated to either cause.

However, the town council believes that it was agreed to set aside money for the Welfare.

They fear that this flexibility will mean that the county council’s policy of affordable housing will take precedence, and with no discussions over limits, the Welfare could suffer as a result.

Town Coun Helen Lewis said it feels like the recreational aspect of the deal is being ‘watered down’ to facilitate the county council’s commitment to affordable-housing provision.

A statement from the town council, which was prepared after this month’s meeting and will be sent to County Hall, reads: “Members argued for definitive amounts to be allocated to affordable housing and the Welfare improvements and to be involved in all of the discussions relating to the S106 agreement.

“Members of the north area planning committee appeared to agree to this in the discussions on the planning application, as did Amble Development Trust.

“It is now apparent that county-council officers and the Executive have put a different interpretation on this.

“The town council looks forward to being closely involved in all future discussions of the S106 agreement and its implementation, but reserve the right to strive for the maximum amount of money being spent at the Welfare to benefit the greater majority of the community.”

In a letter to the town council, Coun Davey said the allocation of funds will be subject to consultation with the development trust and town council.

He added that, as a development-trust scheme for affordable flats on Queen Street was cited as a means to offset a reduction of on-site affordable housing at Marks Bridge, it ‘seems likely that the first release of S106 funding would be allocated to that to ensure delivery’.

“Thereafter, appropriate schemes for other affordable housing in the town and/or Amble Welfare would need to be submitted to the council for consideration with the development trust and town council,” he said.

After the town council meeting, Julia Aston, who is director of the development trust, said that it was her understanding that the S106 funds were flexible, as long as they were used for the benefit of the community.