SURREY county councillors have never been so popular - thanks to a "pot of gold" which they've been given to hand out locally.

Each member has received £17,500 from the council's coffers this year to help fund their pet projects.

The scheme's launch follows the formation, earlier this year, of local county council committees aimed at establishing closer links with the public.

One of the first groups to benefit in the Camberley area is Surrey Heath Voluntary Services.

The organisation has received a total of £4000 from four councillors - Maurice Neighbour, John Phillips, Lavinia Sealy and Alan Peirce.

Coun. Neighbour has also given £6000 to improve street lighting at the Old Dean shopping precinct, and £2000 for similar work outside the estate's youth centre.

And Coun. Phillips has donated £2000 to stop motorists parking on the verge at Deepcut Bridge Road, adjoining the Basingstoke Canal.

One councillor, Fred Chipperfield, is allocating his full amount of £17,500 to Camberley Infants' School's "Safe Routes to School" project.

Coun. Neighbour, Surrey Heath local committee chairman, said it was rewarding to be able to support "worthy projects which might otherwise not see the light of day".

In his view the scheme was already a great success and was helping councillors to make a real difference in their communities.

Councillors, however, do not have an entirely free hand with the cash. The money cannot be handed over until the project has been approved by their colleagues on the local committee.