Swindon Council Faces Budget Blackhole following Government New Homes Bonus Announcement

Swindon Council could face losing up to £7m of government funding in a matter of a few years, following the government’s announcement in their local government finance settlement that future New Homes Bonus money will be dependent on local authorities delivering enough new homes or that too many housing development applications aren’t dependent on being granted through planning appeal.

The Government has said they will revisit the case for withholding New Homes Bonus from 2018-19 from local authorities that are not making positive decisions on planning applications and delivering housing growth. To encourage more effective local planning they are also considering withholding payments for homes that are built following an appeal.

From 2011-2015 an average of 688 homes per year were built in Swindon which was nearly half of the Borough’s Local Plan requirement of 1150 per year. In 2015/16 there were 1443 homes built but 1805 were expected to be built in the Swindon Local Plan. Also the Swindon Local Plan’s housing projections expect over the next few years around 600 homes to be built in Wichelstowe and 1300 homes built in the Eastern Villages however to date there is no sign that these homes will be built. This could make Swindon vulnerable to be seen by government as not delivering the homes they said they would.

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Swindon Council has also refused a number of housing development applications in recent years, including a development for part of the Eastern Villages site, the Commonhead development (eventually granted on appeal), the Hook Street development and the Berkeley Farm development in Wroughton. In the coming years many applications are expected for the Eastern Villages development and if they are not acceptable to the Council’s planning committee this could draw a swift response from the government.

The Swindon Labour Group Leader, Councillor Jim Grant, has attacked the government for using the New Homes Bonus to influence planning decisions, which are meant to be taken on individual merit. He has also said that government policy was main reason for the lack of housebuilding as they were failing to get tough with developers who were holding land for many years without developing them in order to gain a higher value for the land.

The Labour Group Leader, Jim Grant, said:

“This government’s announcement is truly worrying and the Swindon people won’t forgive them if they withdraw £7m of funding for local services, for something that isn’t Swindon’s fault. The government is entirely responsible for the lack of housing in Swindon. They have presided over a national housing strategy which basically gives housing developers the opportunity to sit on land for decades without any recourse. Frankly, the government should be doing more to force these developers to build homes.

And I think this is the first time in history a government is saying they will hold the right to withdraw money from local authorities if they refuse too many planning applications for housing development. Its scandalous the government is threatening councils to withhold money force them to support planning applications for housing development. Planning Applications should be considered on their own merits, based on local and national planning guidelines, not used as a way of enabling local authorities to hold on to government funding.

I hope Swindon Council are properly lobbying the government to put an end to this silly, ill-thought policy.”