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£10 million to spend on our communities

Our Council has the funds to spend in communities – so why isn’t it spent?

Central government gives district councils a New Homes Bonus* as an incentive to grant housing planning permissions, payable when the homes are built.  Since the start of the scheme in 2011 Mid Suffolk District Council has received just over £9 million.  It has spent very little of this and, when combined with recent budget underspends, means the Council has a cash reserve that is expected to rise to £10.47 million by the end of 2017/18.

The Green Group of councillors at Mid Suffolk are urging the Council to create a New Homes Bonus fund, initially £400,000, to which communities that have had housing growth can apply.  Housing growth is happening now and communities must be given the funds to improve their infrastructure to deal with this.

Leader of the Green Group, Councillor Andrew Stringer said “each year we put forward proposals on how to improve quality of life for our residents and this is one such proposal.  Our communities need our support as they get more and more housing growth.”

Many communities are seeing new housing developments and often need improved infrastructure (foot/cycle paths, roads, schools, health provision) alongside this – yet little or no funding is forthcoming.

Villages are being asked to improve their communities themselves yet are not given the budgets to deal with this.

Across England, different councils have different approaches.  In South Lakeland in Cumbria 40% of the New Homes Bonus is used in communities where development occurs and the rest of the fund is used by the council to build their own housing.  In Wychavon in Worcestershire, 40% of the fund from years 4 and 5 of funding is provided to local communities.  South Northamptonshire allocates 30% for parishes and towns that have seen growth and 10% for parish and voluntary group projects.

District Councillor Rachel Eburne said “it is vital that these funds are used.  This is not our money – it belongs to the residents of Mid Suffolk and we should be looking at best practice across the country on how this money can be spent in our communities for best effect.”

 

Notes:

*New Homes Bonus

New Homes Bonus is payable by Government on an annual basis with an amount paid for every new home built or empty home brought back into use.  It was set up to encourage house building by incentivising councils for each planning permission granted.  However it was also delivered in conjunction with Government reducing Revenue Support Grants to local government.

For each home, “payments are made on matching the average national council tax band of the unit built or brought back into use”(1) with an extra £350 if the home is affordable are paid each year.  Of the sum payable, 80% is paid to Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC) and 20% to Suffolk County Council.  This scheme started in 2011/12 and currently the bonus is paid every year for five years.  Since 2011/12, MSDC has received just over £9 million and is due to receive a further £2.027 million in 2017/18.

If a new house is built today, based on the national average of Band D council tax of £1,530 for 2016/17,  Mid Suffolk will receive approximately £6,120 over the next five years – so for 100 homes built, £612,000.  For every affordable house built they will receive an additional £1,750 over the next five years.

MSDC has been building up a so-called “Transformation Fund” which currently stands at £9.2 million and this is primarily funded from the New Homes Bonus.

In many other councils, New Homes Bonus is used as a fund to help communities to mitigate the impact of development in their area – that is, if a community has had development in their area (from which the district council has benefitted by receiving New Homes Bonus) they can apply for funds for projects that deal with impact of more housing.

Examples are:

Chichester District Council – £250,000 per annum provided to communities

http://www.chichester.gov.uk/newhomesbonus

Wychavon District Council – 40% of the New Homes Bonus from years 4 and 5 is provided to communities

http://www.wychavon.gov.uk/documents/10586/157693/New%20Homes%20Bonus%20Protocol%20April%202014.pdf

Bromsgrove District Council – communities that have had new housing built can apply for grants

http://www.bromsgrove.gov.uk/business/tax,-funding-finance/grants-funding/new-homes-bonus-(nhb)-community-grants-scheme.aspx

South Lakeland District Council – uses 40% of funds for local use and the rest for housing in general

http://www.southlakeland.gov.uk/your-neighbourhood/grants/new-homes-bonus/

South Northamptonshire allocates 30% for parishes and towns that have seen growth and 10% for parish and voluntary group projects.

http://www.southnorthants.gov.uk/1037.htm#

(1) See Government guidelines, rates and research briefing:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/486102/New_Homes_Bonus_-_instructions_for_using_the_calculator.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/council-tax-levels-set-by-local-authorities-in-england-2016-to-2017

http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN05724

 

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Council has the cash to help the housing crisis

My letter published in the East Anglian Daily Times – Wednesday 15th February 2017

Here in Mid Suffolk there are over 2,300 planning permissions granted and waiting to be built.  I agree with Fiona Cairns (This won’t fix the housing crisis – Letters 11 February 2017) that this issue is in the hands of the developers however as the opposition group at the Council we have continually put forward ideas to help solve this.

Currently Mid Suffolk District Council has a fund of over £9 million which comes from New Homes Bonus.  This is the money that Government gives councils for each house built and works out at approximately £6,000 per new dwelling (over a five-year period).  A further £2 million will be received in 2017/18.

We are submitting an amendment to the budget for 2017/18 to request that some of this unallocated cash reserve is set aside as a fund to kick-start these developments – and that someone is hired in a “negotiator” type role to help get this done.  We suggested this last year – and the year before – but the money keeps adding up year after year and the problem remains the same.

After years of promises, Haughley Green finally gets broadband

As of today (17th October 2016) residents of Haughley Green can order superfast fibre broadband.  A new cabinet has been installed in the village and after six long years of promises we will finally be able to get a decent broadband service.

Many properties in the village cannot get landline based broadband at all and for others the speed is around 0.5mgb – barely enough to use email.

Local residents and councillors (myself and County Councillor, Andrew Stringer) have been campaigning for over six years fot this to happen.  We have attended conferences, held public meetings, lobbied councils, door-stopped BT, asked questions of MPs, conducted surveys and finally worked with Suffolk County Council’s Better Broadband team to get a service for our area.

Thank you to everyone who has persevered.

Rail Crossing Closures Threat

Haughley Green level crossingOnce again, rail crossings in our area are threatened with closure.  Three immediately around Haughley and Wetherden are at risk – two on the Ipswich to Bury line  (on the Haughley Green to Haughley footpath and at Mutton Hall) and one on the Norwich line (at the Leggetts footpath just north of Haughley Green).  A public consultation will soon be open so please register your views.  From 14th June until 5th July you can go online at www.networkrail.co.uk/anglialevelcrossing or email anglialevelcrossings@networkrail.co.uk or phone 03457 11 41 41.  A consultation event is being held in Stowmarket at the Community Centre IP14 2BD on Tuesday 14th June from 3pm to 8pm.  The local press have been covering this (read here) and also a local pressure group (www.suffolkcrossings.co.uk ) but it is important that as many of you as possible have your say.

 

The difficulties of investing in social housing

Local councils have the ability to build housing and many have (re)started doing so in the last couple of years. The proposed Housing and Planning Bill will seriously affect their ambitions. The Bill contains a variety of measures that make a complex subject even more so – reducing both funding and certainty for local government.

At Mid Suffolk District Council, the council has over 3,300 homes in its own housing stock and runs a 30 year business plan to ensure there are the funds to maintain these and also to provide funds towards building new ones. Within the Housing and Planning Bill councils are forced to reduce rents by 1% per year. This will knock several million pounds off Mid Suffolk’s plans meaning less social housing will be able to be built.

Other measures in the Bill include greater promotion of Right to Buy yet local government only gets some of the discounted sale price of a council house and further can only use this to a maximum of 30% of the cost of building a replacement. The remainder of the sale price goes back to the Treasury and the council has to find additional funds in order to build the replacement. (And if the council does not spend the Right to Buy receipts within three years, these have to go back to the Treasury with interest.)

Housing Association homes will now be included in Right to Buy, albeit voluntarily, however much of the land Housing Associations built on was gifted by local councils so that more social housing could be built. The idea was that there would be social housing in perpetuity but now this will go into private hands and out of the public estate – further reducing the stock of social housing.

Government is asking councils to sell off their high value housing – funds which will be used to compensate Housing Associations for Right to Buy activity. However it doesn’t matter whether a council actually sells any housing or not (even if they have any high value housing which, outside of London, is not likely) as Government will simply charge a levy on councils payable to the Treasury. There is not yet any information on how this levy will be calculated.

And finally in the Housing and Planning Bill there is Pay to Stay. This is where households earning over £30,000 a year (outside London) pay more rent to stay in their council house. Again there is no detail on how this will work – especially given councils don’t actually collect data on household income.

Councils need the freedom to be able to build housing to meet their residents’ housing needs – whatever their circumstances – not a Bill that will mean they pay more to an increasingly centralising government that gives very little in return.

Joined up thinking

20150925_141016I am at the Green Party conference in Bournemouth and meeting lots of enthusiastic and optimistic fellow councillors. We have talked about solutions to particular issues such as transport, housing and energy efficiency by greater joined up thinking across all levels of government. Hopefully we can see much more of this in the future.

Local Post Office to be re-housed – good news or bad?

2071174_ourlogo_ENGLISH_COLOUR_LOGO_REF3_2The Post Office has just issued a consultation on closing Elmswell Post Office (next to the Co-op) and moving it into the Pharmacy – ie: north of the railway line.  The corporate line is that this is good news, opening hours will be slightly longer (by 30 minutes), it won’t be shut for lunch, with the only difference in servcies that you won’t be able to buy Premium Bonds nor on the spot travel insurance.  However – previous local experience has shown that a new service may be far from better.  In Woolpit, where the Post Office has moved from it’s own building to a counter within the Co-op, villagers complain of longer (and confusing) queues, lack of privacy and simply the fact that two good village services have been squashed into one.

At Elmswell the Post Office will now be in the Pharmacy which is probably not frequented as often as the Co-op is.  It may also suffer from the same problems currently happening in Woolpit.  The change is expected to happen in October or November this year.  Ultimately if it doesn’t work – does Elmswell lose a Post Office altogether?

The consultation has just opened and you can access it via www.postofficeviews.co.uk and follow the links.  Elmswell’s number is 063112.  If this is important to you, please take part in the consultation before it closes on 18 August 2015.


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