Call for transparency on spending New Homes Bonus Image: ceebeestock AdobeStock_207781879

Call for transparency over spending referred to Executive without further discussion

At Central Bedfordshire Council‘s (CBC) full meeting last night (26 September 2019), Cllr Adam Zerny (Independent, Potton) put forward a motion that, if approved, would mean that half of the New Homes Bonus (NHB) grant paid to CBC would be spent based on priorities set out by parish/town councils and ward councillors.

NHB was introduced by the Coalition Government to encourage local authorities to grant planning permissions for the building of new houses in return for additional revenue. By using this grant, councils and residents will know that more new homes will mean more money to pay for the increased services that will be required, to hold down council tax, or both.

Local authorities have flexibility on how to spend the un-ringfenced grant, but they are expected to consult communities about how the money will be spent.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) New Homes Bonus Calculator shows that CBC received £6,895,600 for 2018/19.

The New Homes Bonus should be “spent in the areas that have borne the brunt of all this new housing”

Cllr Zerny told the council that over the course of the last eight years, CBC had received £57 million from NHB. He added that over the next five years that this will rise by another £38 million, making a total of almost £100 million. He said:

“A lot of the £57 million has been spent already. Indeed only £12 million is still in corporate reserves.

“So where has all the money gone?

“The New Homes Bonus should be spent in the areas that have borne the brunt of all this new housing, it’s the right thing to do.”

Cllr Richard Wenham (Conservative, Arlesey) deputy leader and executive member for Corporate Resources, responded to the motion. He opened by saying that Cllr Zerny’s words might appear superficially attractive to some:

“Akin to the shiny veneer found on cheap furniture, quickly subsiding into the soggy chipboard below.

“This motion strikes at the heart of fairness for all our residents. Currently today, the NHB is used to provide universal services to all out residents right across Central Bedfordshire.

“Cllr Zerny’s motion is divisive, setting town against town and parish against parish.

“And for what? A new gold chain and a Bentley for Potton Town Council.”

When asked about Cllr Wenham’s comments, Cllr Zerny told the Chronicle:

“It is hard to know how take Cllr Wenham’s comments. What do you say to someone who alleges people might wish to spend Council cash on a gold chain and a Bentley for a town council.”

Biggleswade’s Health Hub would not happen without grant

Cllr Wenham moved that the proposal should be moved to the Executive Meeting. In seconding this new proposal, Cllr Mark Foster (Conservative, Biggleswade South) said that the NHB was vital to ensure that Biggleswade gets its new health hub.

After a vote Cllr Zerny’s proposal was referred without further discussion to the Executive.

Cllr Zerny said that by moving the proposal to the Executive, the ruling party has shut down debate by moving it to a committee where all those with voting rights are Conservatives.

“There is a major issue with transparency here, by voting in this way, Conservative councillors are trying to prevent the transparency that we seek.”

Cllr Sue Clark, ward member for Cranfield and Marston Moretaine and a member of the Council Executive, said:

“New Homes Bonus funds are associated with the scale of new home building that takes place in a local authority area. The New Homes Bonus is allocated not to individual town or parish areas, but to Local Authorities. It is up to Local Authorities how they use that money.

“We use approximately £7 million a year of the funding Central Beds receives to support all of the services we offer as a Council. In other words we use it in our revenue budget. This money has enabled us to keep council tax rises down and to avoid making cuts to services. We do put some of this money in reserves. I understand that this will be used for capital projects such as building health hubs across Central Beds.

“There have been some figures in the public domain about the contribution housing growth in individual areas has made to the New Homes Bonus. I don’t know how these figures have been arrived at or if they are accurate.”

Cllr Clark added that NHB is being scaled back and is likely to end soon.

When asked how the residents in Cranfield and Marston Moretaine were consulted about spending this money, Cllr Clark said that the Council consults every year on its budget.

The next CBC Executive Meeting will be held at Priory House on 8 October 2019 at 09:30.

Bedford Borough Council also receives NHB. A spokesperson for the council said:

“The New Homes Bonus is incorporated as part of the Council’s base budget, providing essential services for local residents.”