Council will be ‘reliant’ on new home cash

New homes are set to be built on Quarry Farm.
New homes are set to be built on Quarry Farm.

Fears have been raised Fylde Council will have to fund vital public services by allowing large-scale housing developments across the borough.

And councillors and campaigners say they see Fylde’s villages losing their ‘character and history’ as Government cuts change the way the authority is funded.

The extent to which the council relies upon the New Homes Bonus (NHB), a grant paid by central government to local councils for increasing the number of homes it supplies based on the extra Council Tax revenue it can raise, is highlighted as an issue in a new council report which councillors will discuss 
this week.

The report states: “The extent of the council’s reliance upon New Homes Bonus to support ongoing revenue expenditure is one of the most significant financial risks facing the council.”

It added: “New Homes Bonus is un-ringfenced funding, and Fylde Council uses the funding in its entirety to support the ongoing revenue expenditure of the council.

“It is worth noting that NHB is becoming an increasing proportion of the total financing receivable by the Council.”

Councillors have pledged to only pass developments that are right for the area, but recognise the issue.

In 2014/15, the New Homes Bonus financed 12.6 per cent of the council’s running costs budget, but that figure is forecast to increase to 20 per cent by 2017.

Coun Maxine Chew, councillor for Singleton and Greenhalgh, believes smaller villages in Fylde are in danger of losing their “character and history”.

She said: “The Government is starving us of money and the only way as a council we can build new schools, health centres and playing fields will be allowing enough new developments to go ahead.

“The planning committees will be put in an invidious position to accept developments that they know are wrong.

“Smaller villages will lose their character and history.

“I say it every meeting that these smaller villages will be in danger of being swallowed up into amorphous mass of greater Blackpool.”

Councillors have already lost battles to prevent the expansion of Kirkham and Wesham with homes set to be built on Mowbreck Lane.

And the population of Warton is set to soar as hundreds of homes are built in the village.

However, Coun Fabian Craig-Wilson insists the council remains committed to protecting the countryside.

She said: “We want to protect as much of the green belt land and countryside as possible.

“Any increases in the budget from the New Homes Bonus will not mean any other future inappropriate developments will be accepted.”

John Rowson, chairman of the Community Association to Protect Wrea Green, has campaigned against numerous housing applications in the village since 2013.

He said: “My main concern is by keeping council tax down, the council is more likely to approve new homes to receive the bonus rather than reject them.

“Personally I would prefer to see a rise in council tax than an increase in approving large developments that will destroy the countryside in Fylde forever.”

The New Homes Bonus income is set to become an increasingly significant source of funding to the council as central government support decreases.

Central government’s Revenue Support Grant is forecast to decrease year on year, meaning the New Homes Bonus will become more important as a proportion of Fylde Council’s total financing.

Council officers have been told under the next Government, be it Labour, Conservative, LibDem or UKIP-led, austerity measures are expected to continue up to 2019/20.

Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility state that 60 per cent of cuts in day-to-day public services spending will have to take place in the next Parliament.

This means that grants receivable by Fylde Council from central government will fall from £1.443m in 2015/16 to an estimated allocation of £0.538m in 2018/19.

Coun Julie Brickles said: “The concern I have is the council is under-pinning its budget on something not set in stone. Should Labour get in and scrap the bonus or if the current government decide to move the goalposts then the council could be faced with filling a big gap.”

But Coun Trevor Fiddler believes the New Homes Bonus has no direct influence over a planning committee when deciding whether a housing development is granted or not. He said: “The policy delivers growth and new homes that are needed, and in no way does it have any impact on the decisions made.”