Tunbridge Wells housing association's boasts over cost cutting
By Kent and Sussex Courier | Monday, October 29, 2012, 04:59
A HOUSING association based in Tunbridge Wells has incurred the wrath of two local authorities after publicly boasting it avoided paying hundreds of thousands of pounds which would have benefited communities.
KNOCK-DOWN PRICES: Flats are demolished in Kemble Close, Sherwood, in September as part of Town and Country's redevelopment of the area, one of the projects on which it successfully reduced its contributions
DUTY: Colin Lissenden
STATEMENT: Town and Country's Annual Report
In its annual report to tenants, Town and Country Housing Group proudly states it saved £680,000 it had been asked to give to local councils as part of its agreements as a developer. Much of this sum would have gone towards education in Tunbridge Wells.
It hired a consultant at a cost of around £3,000 to help reduce the amount it paid as part of Section 106 agreements, in which developers make cash contributions towards helping the area's infrastructure.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Kent County Council were stunned by the group's actions.
"I think they're winding somebody up," said borough council leader David Jukes. "We're less than pleased. If it's true they've taken on a consultant to get that sort of information then I want to know who he is and I'll get it back."
John Simmonds, cabinet member for finance and procurement at Kent County Council, was equally upset.
He said: "We are disappointed to hear of this approach. Every housing development needs infrastructure with it, from roads, schools and social services to amenities.
"It is right that we rely on Section 106 contributions to make sure we provide the services that are needed – and residents are right to expect them."
But Town and Country, which has charitable status, insisted it had nothing to hide.
The £680,000 savings figure emanates from developments across Kent but a large chunk of it relates to schemes in Tunbridge Wells.
In May, £50,000 was put towards education in Sherwood as part of Town and Country's regeneration of the area – but the initial figure for contributions suggested by Kent County Council was £500,000.
The other Tunbridge Wells scheme in which Town and Country saved money related to a development of flats in Ramslye. Its contribution towards funds earmarked for education as part of the deal was reduced, but it is unclear by how much.
Sherwood borough councillor Bob Backhouse said he sympathised with Mr Jukes' stance on the way in which it had been reported by the group, but insisted Town and Country had been nothing but good to the estate.
Town and Country development director Colin Lissenden said: "As a charitable housing association we have a duty to tenants to ensure that money is spent wisely so that we can invest it in offering them the best possible service.
"Some of the payments we were initially asked for on a number of schemes in Kent seemed to us to be disproportionately high and would have meant that we would not have been able to provide as many much-needed affordable homes. We spent the relatively small sum of £3,000 on consultants to check the figures. It was found that there had been some miscalculations and they were indeed far higher than they should be. The relevant councils agreed with this assessment."