IN his Insight column (January 25) Cllr Abelwhite, leader of the district council, informs readers that: “We built 798 houses last year.” That is untrue. The district council doesn’t build houses. It allocates land for housing and gives planning permission. It is the house builders and housing associations that build the actual houses.
My question is why would Cllr Abelwhite assert such an untruth? My answer is HDC is in trouble over the New Homes Bonus (NHB).
Further, in his column Cllr Abelwhite tries links the receipt of New Homes Bonus with the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). This linking gives the impression that people who are entitled to this grant won't receive it if the New Homes Bonus isn't spent on this programme.
But DFG is an obligation on the district council, and it would have to spend this money whether or not it received the New Homes Bonus.
It is true that more will be spent on DFG (£2.2 million) this current year than will be received in NHB (£832,000). Much of this extra spending is due to a backlog of work that isn't HDC's doing.
But even with this extra spending HDC is currently looking at a budget surplus of £1.2m at the year end in March 2012.
Looking forward, HDC's own medium term plan forecasts spending on DFGs at £6m, while forecasting income from the New Homes Bonus at £19.3m. That is a surplus of £13.3 million in New Homes Bonus.
The Rt Hon. Grant Shapps, Conservative Minister in charge of the New Homes Bonus, in a ministerial statement said: "The New Homes Bonus will be un-ringfenced. This flexible funding will allow the benefits of housing growth to be returned to those communities affected by growth in a way which best meets local need. Local authorities will need to lead the debate with their communities to determine local spending priorities."
Although the New Homes Bonus is Conservative policy, this Conservative-run district council has not led any debate on the New Homes Bonus. The Conservatives went as far as changing the name of the New Homes Bonus to hide the fact they were getting this extra money.
An example of how much money can come, via the New Homes Bonus, from new developments is the proposed 750 homes in Godmanchester. This total NHB, at an average of £7,000 a home, equates to £5.25m.
Currently, Godmanchester will not see any of this money. The Conservative-run HDC should be out there informing residents of the benefits of new housing developments and the money that will flow from these developments through the New Homes Bonus to each community.
Instead, Conservative-run HDC is keeping quiet about the New Homes Bonus and wants to keep the money, which should be "returned to those communities affected by growth" for itself.
Some commentators call the New Homes Bonus a bribe. If this is bribery so that local communities have a good financial reason to accept growth, I cannot see what is wrong.
As it stands, these communities won't get this money so there is no real incentive to accept new housing.