Swindon council calls for changes to Boris Johnson’s ‘build back better’ plan

WHEN Boris Johnson promised to help Britain build back after the coronavirus lockdown he said his government would sweep away “newt-counting” delays in the planning system.

But the prime minister’s plan didn’t meet with universal approval in Swindon. Councillors across the political divide – including the Conservative cabinet member for planning and strategic infrastructure Gary Sumner – expressed some concerns.

Now Coun Sumner has written to the government on behalf of the council asking for changes.

He has copied his letter to Tory MPs Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson and asked them to support the council’s suggested changes.

Coun Sumner said the council was happy with the government’s mission to see more houses built.

He said: “Swindon is a ‘pro-growth town’ and although the changes increase the number of homes we must deliver, we are comfortable that we can meet this new target. We are ambitious for growth in both housing and employment.”

But the council is not in favour of raising the threshold where a developer must include affordable homes to estates of 50 houses.

Coun Sumner added: “We are embarking on an ambitious council housebuilding programme, which is in a large part funded through developer contributions.

“Schemes such as Queens Drive and others will deliver over 300 affordable homes and in 2019/20 working with housing association partners over 229 affordable homes were delivered.”

And the authority doesn’t like the government’s idea of councils borrowing money for infrastructure such as roads to support new housing, then claiming it back from the builders later.

Coun Sumner said: “This is not sustainable for us and I have made this clear, directly to ministers.

“Development should deliver more than the essential infrastructure and it should not be to the detriment of existing communities. We want the costs of increasing GP provision, public transport, education, leisure, sports facilities and the ‘nice to have’ elements funded.

“This would help communities welcome the changes which development brings.”

Swindon council has suggested a “land value uplift” scheme where councils can gain a percentage of the increase in the value of land when permission for building – especially housing – is granted.

Coun Sumner said: “This would enable the council to fund the upfront infrastructure needed to support the unlocking of development on the land and hence deliver homes and jobs, and would the risk on councils would ensure that the infrastructure funding is available at the start of the development process, and ensure that the enabling infrastructure is funded by the land owner.”

The council welcomes the intention to get more small and medium development and building companies to construct houses and says the government should help them find the finances needed – but not use more relaxed affordable housing targets to do this.

Coun Sumner said: “We think that our suggestions will deliver what the government wants, which is more housing and a range of housing options for all those seeking a home.

“We are an area which welcomes growth and change – as this town has done since Mr Brunel promoted the first housing expansion.”

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