open space1SIGOMA – does that mean anything to you?

Well, perhaps it should do. It stands for ‘Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities’ – a grouping within the Local Government Association outside London. Leeds is part of it.
SIGOMA monitors, reports and highlights changes which affect Councils like Leeds.
Their reports always make important reading.
What they consistently show is the widening divide between London and the South East on the one side, and the rest of the country – including and especially Northern cities like Leeds – on the other.

In a recent report, SIGOMA highlighted the ‘startling’ differences which have appeared as a result of the Coalition Government’s changes since it took office in 2010.
By 2012 London and South East budgets had grown by £235 million, whilst the rest of England had shared a net loss of £4.5bn.
‘The Government has shifted its policy away from funding authorities according to need, instead distributing funding according to business growth and new house build. This leaves those authorities with the highest costs and some of the weakest economies at serious risk of being underfunded, almost to breaking point.’

This is the result of a series of individual changes to the way local government finance is allocated and distributed – which are shifting money away from cities like Leeds. We’ve written about these before – and you can consult our earlier posts under the tag ‘Local Government Finance’ in the sidebar of our news page.

One of these changes is the so-called ‘New Homes Bonus’. This allocates money to Councils according to the number of new homes.
‘The “New Homes Bonus” is a Government scheme which is aimed at encouraging local authorities to grant planning permissions for the building of new houses in return for additional revenue.’

Good idea, you might think. We certainly need affordable homes. But like many of this Coalition Government’s wheezes, it merits detailed scrutiny.

The New Homes bonus is proving redistributive – it’s taking money, which would have gone e.g. to the North, and giving it to London and the South East.
‘SIGOMA authorities are suffering an 11.8% shortfall in funding following the redistributive effects of the New Homes Bonus. For example, in the North West this is a 6.4% shortfall compared to South East authorities who, on average, are gaining a 7.3% increase in funding.’

But what should also be clear is the huge pressure this measure puts on Local Councils to grant planning permissions. The old direct grants of income are no longer forthcoming. Councils desperately need what they can get through this sort of income stream.

Which is why the changes George Osborne made in the autumn statement should be of interest to anyone concerned with planning and housing development in Leeds North West.
As we reported yesterday, Osborne’s Autumn Statement proposed changes to the New Homes Bonus.
One step back to understand what this means.
As readers will know, the National Planning Policy Framework – which we’ve also reported on before – has taken many powers away from Local Councils like Leeds, and given them to an Inspectorate. That Inspectorate is now the body with ultimate power over planning decisions. That is the body to which appeals against – OR IN FAVOUR – of development can be made
– appeals, thus, BY developers AGAINST a Council’s decisions to stop or delay development.

So what is Osborne proposing?
He wants to add a penalty for Councils who decide to try to stop development. If their decision is then overturned at appeal, they will lose their New Homes Bonus. If the developers appeal – to the Inspectorate, remember, against the Council – and if they win, the houses will be built, but the Council will receive nothing.

We’ve written before about the NPPF as a ‘developers’ charter’. Well, the developers have just been handed another gift – just in time for Christmas.

Councils are already under pressure to allow development in order to get much-needed cash. They will think twice, or three times, before opposing developers’ plans if they face the double whammy of legal costs of appeal PLUS potential loss of the New Homes Bonus.

So – Osborne, Cameron, Clegg and the rest of this Coalition Government have done a great job in diverting funds from cities like Leeds. And they’re apparently determined now to make it ever more likely that the green belt of such cities will be built over.

So a Merry Christmas to the developers, with love from Dave, and George and Nick.

But more financial misery for cities like Leeds.

And a just one more threat to the green and pleasant lands of Leeds North West.

BRITAIN HAS TO DO BETTER THAN THIS.

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