There have been two hot topics on local social media sites this week.
Firstly, there have been accusations flying around that I – together with my colleagues representing LB South ward on CBC – have been trying to block Councillors from other Leighton Buzzard and Linslade wards from ‘calling in’ planning applications for scrutiny by the CBC Development Management Committee.
There have been posts from ‘the usual suspects’ accusing us of all sorts of corrupt and anti-democratic practices. And despite attempts from both me and Cllr Berry to set the record straight, the accusations have continued to flow.
I will therefore attempt once more to set out the facts as to what is behind this story, and leave you to make up your own mind as to whether there has been any wrongdoing by anyone.
Cllr Harvey asked to ‘call in’ the planning application for the Old Sorting Office site. The Planning Department at CBC sort clarification from the Monitoring Officer (CBC’s legal advisor) as to whether Cllr Harvey could do this as she is not a councillor for the ward in which this site exists.
The precedent has always been that only the councillors for the ward in which the site of a planning application exists could ‘call it in’; this was the unanimously held view of Councillors and Officers, and was based on the accepted interpretation of the Council’s Standing Orders.
The application in question is for a site in LB South and not Cllr Harvey’s ward of Linslade.
I do not believe that Cllr Harvey was seeking to test this position, but in seeking to call in the application it has raised a question regarding the actual wording of Standing Orders, and whether this long held and accepted interpretation is actually correct.
As an aside, this application did not need to be ‘called in’ by a ward member as any application on this scale is automatically referred to the Development Management Committee – hence why none of the LB South Councillors had asked for it to be called in!
The other ‘fake news’ this week has been regarding the New Homes Bonus, and stems from a social media post from a Potton Councillor (for the vast majority of you who don’t know and don’t care where Potton is, it is part of CBC-land that sits right on the border with Cambridgeshire).
The councillor put out a post claiming to show significant sums of money that have been generated from the New Homes Bonus, and according to his post, the money has been withheld from local communities affected by housebuilding (I believe the term that was used was that we had ‘pocketed the money’). Furthermore, his post included a table which showed a breakdown of money by ward / town.
The information contained within that post needs to be taken with a pinch of salt for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, the figures quoted cannot be verified and I have not been able to establish the source of the figures.
There is a reason for this – the NHB is given to the local authority as a whole and is not awarded to individual towns or parishes. It is calculated by the Government based on growth across the whole local authority area.
Secondly, the money is not given explicitly for capital projects – it is up to the local authority to determine how the money is spent. Indeed, it is given in recognition of the additional strain that new housing places on a Council and the services it provides.
CBC uses approximately £7 million per year to support all of the services that CBC provides: adult and children’s social care, leisure services, roads, waste management and so on. In other words, it is used to support the Council’s revenue budget.
In using the NHB in this way, CBC have been able to maintain services for local residents and keep Council Tax low.
Over time, approximately £12 million of NHB has been put into the Council’s reserves for capital projects. One of the projects this will support is the building of the new Health Hubs across Central Bedfordshire (including Leighton Buzzard).
Thirdly, the post suggests the council will receive a further £38 million over the next 5 years. It is impossible to speculate how much the council will receive as the NHB scheme is due to be scaled back and eventually phased out altogether.
Again, these are the facts behind the story – I will leave local residents to decide if there has been any misdemeanour!