The Conservative administration at Walsall Council took a view some time ago that the New Homes Bonus (NHB) scheme should be targeted at regeneration schemes rather than be swallowed up centrally to plug possible gaps in the budget. We also recognised that this is time limited finance and hence could not be allocated to ongoing projects.
New Homes Bonus has been introduced as part of the Government’s planning reforms. It is designed to provide an incentive to local authorities to encourage the delivery of new housing. The previous Housing and Planning Delivery Grant (HPDG) was based on the number of dwellings that had planning permission, NHB is based on the number of new homes completed in the authority’s area.
The Government confirmed that Walsall’s reward for new homes built and added to the Council Tax Base over the 12 months to October 2010 is £911,506, which is one of the larger sums in our region.
Back in July 2011 the Cabinet approved a set of principles to guide how the NHB is to be invested and to focus it on activity to stimulate economic growth and new housing provision. We are specifically focussing NHB on the following six key investment areas:
I. Supporting strategic acquisitions and development funding – further investing in acquiring strategic land assets through which the Council can directly stimulate future development and developing flexible funding models to assist in improving the viability of future development schemes.
II. Developing and maintaining a policy base to support future development – the production of appropriate Development plan documents to support regeneration in line with government policies.
III. Supporting Economic Regeneration – supporting activity across the borough required to stimulate economic recovery, growth and supporting businesses to get access to the supply chain for major schemes.
IV. Stimulating future new homes provision – continuing the Council’s previous successful strategy under Regional Housing Pot which has now ceased to support the delivery of schemes to deliver significant number of new homes in the Borough in response to identified housing need and market conditions.
V. Bringing empty homes back into use – targeted action to return homes that have laid vacant into productive use.
VI. Providing for Gypsies and Travellers – providing appropriate levels of accommodation to enable current and existing demands to be appropriately managed.
In September 2011 the Cabinet agreed that the first instalment of New Homes Bonus would specifically be focused on delivering new homes. The Walsall scheme is aimed at unlocking stalled or part completed housing sites with current planning permission, including sites where development has yet to commence and has been delayed by the economic downturn and lack of help from the banks. Assistance will
be offered through a loan or grant to stimulate housing development of 10 homes or more on each site.
I have ensured that there is a strong preference for loans to facilitate the development in order that the money can be recycled and eventually invested in other projects. Rather than being a one off injection into the economy we are hoping this will be continually invested.
We have encouraged over 60 developers with full planning consents to consider their eligibility, and have had seven applications that could result in over 200 homes being built contributing further to our New Homes Bonus next year. This will also create or protect jobs in the construction industry very much in line with the government’s announcements on Monday.