Northumberland County Council have been accused of encouraging unsustainable housing development in order to fill their funding gap.
Local Liberal Democrats are asking the Council to seek community opinions on spending the New Homes Bonus in order that funds can be used to help support local community needs.
On top of increased Council Tax receipts from new homes, Local Authorities are entitled to an extra payment of six years’ worth of council tax from central government for every new home built. Grants are available for affordable housing and bringing houses back into use. Northumberland County Council will receive £6.6m in the current financial year, with much more housing in the pipeline. Government guidance suggests that Local Authorities consult with local communities on the spending of those funds.
Lib Dem campaigner Julie Pörksen commented: “Many of our local communities in Northumberland such as Warkworth, Amble and Morpeth are facing unprecedented and unsustainable housing growth, taking place contrary to local neighbourhood plans. Section 106 agreements exist but are not enough to meet community needs. Investment in local infrastructure, from roads and parking, and local services such as schools and dentists, is not sufficient to serve current levels of house building. By not asking local communities for input on spending plans I can only assume that Northumberland County Council is just looking to maximise the New Homes Bonus to fill the black hole in their finances. Many residents I speak to already feel their community’s future is under the control of major landowners such as the Duke of Northumberland through Northumberland Estates. It’s about time Northumberland County Council started acting on behalf of its’ residents, not just developers and large landowners.”
The Morpeth area is facing huge residential development within the years to 2031, the period covered by the County’s emerging Core Strategy and the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan. Until the Core Strategy is completed, work will not begin on assessing need and planning delivery of the infrastructure necessary to service that growth. Local Lib Dems have worked hard, both through the Town Council and individually, to raise the issues about infrastructure needs across the board. County are not listening to local people, yet the growth they are forcing upon us is unsustainable without the infrastructure. We need schools, surgeries, car parks, leisure centre, and new library, whilst a growing town should have increased social and cultural facilities. A community is more than just housing. We also need to plan ahead, to beyond 2031, as there is probably an optimum size beyond which Morpeth cannot grow unless road projects such as the Loansdean/Stobhill Link Road, a second bridge over the River Wansbeck and a full north/south junction on the A1 at Clifton, are delivered. Yet there has been no consultation on the use of the New Homes Bonus generated by housing development. It has not been overlooked however, as Planning Officers’ reports to committee usually quote the value of the Bonus as an economic benefit of approving developments. It simply disappears into the general budget without any of the recommended consultation. The areas most affected by housing growth should have their say about how the money is spent.