£340k at risk due to Mansfield Council’s error

NMAC11-1933-1''Councillors and members of the Maun Conservation Group pictured woth some of the paths on Quarry Lane that are in poor condition
NMAC11-1933-1''Councillors and members of the Maun Conservation Group pictured woth some of the paths on Quarry Lane that are in poor condition

AN embarrassing clerical error means Mansfield District Council risks losing £340,000 it was given for community projects, Chad has learned.

The cash may have to be handed back to a housing developer because the mistake meant a legal deadline for spending it was recorded incorrectly.

NMAC11-1933-2''Councillors and members of the Maun Conservation Group pictured woth some of the paths on Quarry Lane that are in poor condition

NMAC11-1933-2''Councillors and members of the Maun Conservation Group pictured woth some of the paths on Quarry Lane that are in poor condition

Community groups who expected the money to go on a catalogue of projects hit out at the authority this week after learning of the error.

Mansfield mayor Tony Egginton has opened talks to try to persuade Bloor Homes to take only a proportion back or still spend some directly in the community.

Council managers have apologised and say an investigation has been launched.

Colin Etches, chairman of Maun Conservation Group, said the organisation had expected the cash to be spent on Quarry Lane Nature Reserve.

He said: “The reserve is going to the dogs because they won’t spend money on it, how can this have happened?”

In a letter to another organisation, Hermitage Lane Friends Group, the council confirms the cash could be returned because its five-year deadline had been entered incorrectly in a database in 2007.

The money was first supplied by Bloor Homes after the authority gave permission for it to build 30 houses on land south of Atkin Lane at Paddock Close in February 2004.

The £340,000 was given by the firm for local improvements under a section 106 agreement - a legal tool allowing councils to request cash for facilities from developers.

But in a 2007 database change, it was given an incorrect deadline for spending of 31st August this year - more than two years later than the correct date.

With the money still unspent, the council is faced with handing it back to Bloor.

Mr Egginton said he had met with the developer on 8th July after hearing of the error and was hopeful of a positive response.

“It’s an error that shouldn’t have happened and there will be an investigation,” he said.

“But the meeting was positive and negotiations are ongoing.”

A report had been given to the firm on work already done which could prevent some of the money going back, he added.

Options discussed include an extended deadline or asking the firm to spend some of the cash directly on the projects itself.

Ajman Ali, the council’s corporate director for housing, property and operational services, explained the mistake and apologised on behalf of the authority this week.

“We regret and apologise for this,” he said.

“When we discovered the mistake we sought legal opinion and the conclusion of that was we did have to pay the money back.”

He added there had been no loss to the taxpayer and improvements had already been made to monitoring procedures.

Other options include using section 106 money from other areas to cover some of the works, he added.

The cash was for schemes including works to the 190-year-old listed viaduct at the Hermitage Lane Nature Reserve, plus path works and fencing.

Quarry Lane Nature Reserve was also due to get path improvements paid for by the cash.

Ruth Norman, secretary of the Friends of Hermitage Lane, said the group had asked the council about the cash continually and could not understand why the mistake was not found sooner.

“We are really disappointed with them,” she said.

“I think they have messed up and they need to put something right somewhere.”

Mr Etches said Maun Conservation Group had also asked officers about the money a number of times.

“We have had meetings with the council where we have brought this up,” he said.

“We have asked ‘when will we see this money?’”

June Stendall, a former district councillor for the area, said she had also raised the apparently slow pace of the cash.

“The council has let people down and should put things right,” she said.

Bloor Homes declined to comment.