York councillors have hit out at the “deeply flawed” way housing developer cash is distributed after a decision was made to spend nearly £50,000 generated from a city centre development on a games area in another part of the city.
York’s Labour group leader Cllr Claire Douglas said spending section 106 money from the Hungate development around a mile-and-a-half away in the Heworth Without ward was a “slap in the face” for residents.
Nearly £70,000 of section 106 cash – which developers pay or support the provision of services to mitigate the impact of building projects – was generated for off-sites sports provision from the building of block F of the Hungate development, which is in Guildhall ward.
But £44,000 of that will be making its way to one of three potential sites for a new multi-use games area (MUGA) in the Heworth Without ward, represented by a Liberal Democrat.
Guildhall Labour councillor Fiona Fitzpatrick questioned why this was happening when she has been making efforts to regenerate the “tired and rundown” play area in Navigation Road.
“I’m well aware of limitations on space in the city centre but that does not mean that there aren’t opportunities and options for section 106 investment in the ward,” added.
“I question the whole process where a developer knows they have a contribution to make and this council finds ways to allocate the money miles away from the developments and away from the people who stand to be most impacted by it.”
She accused Liberal Democrat executive member for culture, leisure and communities Cllr Darryl Smalley of acting in the interests of his ruling party by approving the funding.
The latest Hungate planning application, approved by a cross-party planning committee, did name Heworth Without as the beneficiary of a new MUGA when it was passed in 2019.
Burnholme Sports Centre, in Labour-controlled Heworth ward, also benefited to the tune of £25,000.
Cllr Douglas said the section 106 system was “opaque” as it was difficult to tell how and why certain projects were chosen for investment.
She added that the situation was particularly puzzling given council data shows Heworth Without has a surplus of outdoor sports space of almost 11 hectares.
The funding was “not even being spent in wards neighbouring the wards affected that do have a deficit of outdoor sports provision”, Cllr Douglas added.
A row erupted over playground funding last summer after Labour accused the Lib Dems of channelling cash to upgrade playgrounds in their own wards above those in poorer areas, which they denied.
Cllr Smalley said he was “not completely blind” to the point the Labour councillors were making and agreed the section 106 system had problems.
“If I was in your shoes I’d probably be there making similar points,” he added.
But he said he did not want to go back on a decision on funding that had already been made.
“On the [planning] committee was a councillor from Heworth ward and a councillor from Guildhall ward. And separately, another Guildhall ward councillor spoke at that meeting,” he added.
A consultation will now decide whether to build the MUGA on the existing grass football pitch in the Stray Road play area, on Hempland Field, or somewhere else in Heworth Without.