Funding schools, roads, leisure and health facilities needed to match the extra houses planned is a problem. The new proposals are out for consultation with replies welcomed from October 1.
Since government spend is right down they will not be funding the increased roads, schools and services needed to support their planned increase in population. So how much can the developers pay?
Once the Local Plan is in place, the rules for developer contributions will change. All new developments of three houses or more will be expected to pay a Community Infrastructure Levy or CIL charge and any site-related 106 agreements. That is, only if they can afford it according to their “viability assessment”.
A 106 agreement is an agreement to pay the bare minimum costs in extra school classrooms, surgeries and roads for the new residents. But the developer is only required to pay if his viability assessment says he can afford it. This, including his profit margin is kept secret and not open for us to question. Certainly the developers will not be paying more in 106 payments than their viability assessment requires.
The CIL rates or “roof tax” will be set by the district council and is designed to help fund the increased demands of the new plan. Currently they are estimated to be between £25 and £40 per square metre of house build.
However, there is not enough money for the infrastructure we need, so there is a list of priorities and only the top ones will be supported, starting with the Eastern Bypass.
If the developer pays any CIL at all, the first 85% goes to the Eastern Bypass until they have £34m – which may take a few years. That money is effectively already spoken for, before the first CIL money arrives. 15% goes for local facilities, schools, roads, etc, unless you have a completed neighbourhood plan. With a neighbourhood plan, you get 25% of the CIL money.
However, currently the expectation is to take less from the developers in Sleaford, than in other areas, 0% in some cases. So you could easily get only 20% affordable housing with nothing for local facilities, that is bigger demands as people move in, but not the money to support them.
There is no affordable housing minimum requirement in this plan, so some developments will not be required to provide any.
These CIL rates are out for consultation, so it is something you can influence and the district council will be making the decision.
Probably more important is the fact that Sleaford has been allocated the highest rate of development in the county at 58% increase, with no certainty of jobs, facilities nor services. – The plan relies on an optimistic level of economic growth. Attracting new businesses is in competition with every other council, Europe and further afield.
I believe the build rate of 1540 houses per year is still much too high, being around double the rate for 2013/14 and close to the highest rate we have ever experienced. The Strategic Housing Market Area Assessment (SHMA) outlines the consultants’ assessment of “housing need”, based on plans for a lot more people.
I have argued long and hard for a lower number of houses that would be more deliverable and give us a better opportunity of meeting our extra requirements for facilities.
This plan leaves an estimated shortfall of over £100m in facilities. The proposals for economic development and jobs are “high level”, without the substance of detail, relying on attracting businesses in from other areas, against competition from every council in the land and abroad.
Reducing business rates to get them in, further cuts to the money we need to provide essential facilities, so tends to be self-defeating. Big businesses, like the straw-burning power station, tend to appeal, leaving us short. It is certainly worth attracting businesses that add to our economy, rather than just competing, but it will not be a magic bullet to save the day.
Ultimately, the plan relies on economic development, the thinnest document of all, and relying on the widest range of forecasts.
Most of all, I am concerned about getting what we need to match the housing; jobs, facilities and essential public services. With an estimated shortfall of over £100m, this document does not give confidence in a successful future.
The current estimated growth needs for Lincolnshire, including inward migration is calculated at 917 houses pa. Forecasts vary, giving a range of 1000 dwellings more or less.
37,000 houses is less than in the last unsuccessful plan, but it is still too many. We should take a lower estimate of housing need. There is a range suggested even by the consultants’ housing need assessment, that would fit the Inspector’s criteria to get our plan passed and give us a better future.
From the first of October, please add your voice to the clamour in response to the plans and if you copy me in, I will be able to support you better.
Marianne Overton is the Independent County and District Councillor for Navenby and Branston District and the Cliff Villages. Also leader of the Lincolnshire Independents, a county-wide support network. Twice elected national Leader of the Independent Group of councillors for England and Wales and Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association.