Reigate and Banstead can choose to invest to make our services better and living here more affordable

This is the speech I made in response to Reigate & Banstead Borough Council’s budget proposal at last night’s Council meeting. (Please see the footnotes for references and further information.)

I will start by thanking officers for their work preparing this financially sound budget. Yet our strong financial position includes money not yet used, which could deliver more for our residents.

We should ensure that our budget delivers our promises to residents. Over three years ago we promised to make our recycling better for all1. But only one third of those in flats have our new service2 – although this was promised again in last year’s budget. At the current roll-out rate this will take another six years. Extra staff are needed in our recycling team to speed this up – and not just to make it happen but to help stop the wrong waste contaminating our recycling, which is currently costing our council hundreds of thousands each year.

Recycling is a key service. We must get it right. So let’s spend some of our Corporate Plan Delivery Fund to deliver this key service to residents. I understand this is now being taken on – which is good news.

Each year our council receives over £3 million in New Homes Bonus3 . Other councils spend this providing affordable homes. We could too4. With our residents increasingly being made homeless by private landlords putting up rents well above inflation and wage rises, we have 120 of our households in B8B and temporary accommodation5, costing us over half a million a year. Putting in the cash so some of the homes built in our property hotspot6 are affordable will provide the homes our next generation needs, and places our homeless can afford to make their home locally.

Let’s provide residents with affordable homes locally, and save us money (as we deal with the problem of homelessness) too7. Surely a win-win.

Finally, this council plans to spend up to half a million on plans for a business park South of Horley8 before consulting residents9. (Surely this is a gamble with tax payers’ money – and puts council plans before council democracy.) With massive cuts in council funding, public sector job losses can be expected across the UK (less so here in Surrey). Why create the extra jobs here as that will mean we need to build the extra homes too10?

This budget is made possible through using some of a million pounds of budget headroom created in 2012/1311 which was not considered in the budget papers reviewed this year. This means our budget leaves untouched our healthy reserves: around ten million in the revenue budget12, ten million in unspent planning monies13, and eight million of unspent New Homes Bonus money in the bank14.

We can do more – on climate change and sustainability, providing better recycling and more allotments15, better addressing homelessness and providing more affordable housing. And small things like putting flower tubs in Redhill not just Reigate town centre.

I am happy to work with the administration to make more of these opportunities a reality, but cannot support the budget as it stands16.

Footnotes

1. http://www4.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/aksreigate/images/att5365.pdf (Update on Planning for a New Kerbside Recycling and Refuse Collection Service)

2. http://www4.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/aksreigate/images/att6998.pdf (See answer to question 9f on page 45.)

3. http://www4.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/aksreigate/images/att6998.pdf (See answer to i. on p24. Expected to be £3.6 million this coming year.)

4. In reply to this the Leader of the council said he spent ‘more and more time wondering what to do in this area’. We can spend the money to bridge the gap between providing for market sale and affordable rent properties, particularly on public sector sites such as the station and Marketfield way car parks in Redhill. If these are delivered through an community land trust or similar then they will be retained to provide affordable homes in perpetuity (see for example – http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/25/community-land-trusts-uk-housing-crisis-east-london-mile-end). Partners could include the YMCA who were invited and presented at this council meeting.

5. In reply the Lead councillor for Finance noted that the number is 23 in B&B, not 120. The combination of B&B and temporary accommodation is, as I stated, 120. Providing for those other households does not cost the Council as much money as housing families in B&B but they are still homeless, without permanent accommodation.

6. Which means that house prices are rising faster here, making homes less affordable for local people, whether seeking to rent or buy.

7. The Council lead Member for regeneration cited the Merstham regeneration programme as helping provide the affordable housing we need. However, rather than providing ‘increased affordable housing’ as she claimed in this meeting, the Merstham regeneration is actually reducing it: “Of the existing 42 flats on the site, 38 are social rented with the remaining 4 being privately owned. The proposal would provide all 48 dwellings as market housing which represents a significant reduction in affordable housing. Whilst this would normally not be acceptable, the Framework does allow for a reduction in the level of housing provided as affordable, both in order to help redress the balance of tenures in favour of more family homes, and also in order to help enable the cross-funding of the new retail and community facilities” (See https://bdsdocs.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/Planning/StreamDocPage/obj?DocNo=2430923&content=obj.pdf).

8. http://www4.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/aksreigate/images/att6982.pdf (See table entitled ‘strategic property’ in Annex 4 at the end of this report.)

9. And it is not clear that this consultation will be through the current process of updating our local plan, or if the Council will just submit a planning application to itself. See the written answers to Member questions expected from this Council meeting.

10. The devolution prospectus for Surrey, East and West Sussex is arguing to further increase the rate of house building. For example, page 6 says this aims to “increase housing delivery and land supply” to address increased demand for London housing (many references). Page 15 sets out the devolution proposals. This aims to “enhance the supply and type of housing so that people can move into jobs that use their skills and can afford to live close to where they want to work … in our priority locations … in the plans of our Local Enterprise Partnerships (ours, Coast to Capital, highlights Gatwick airport)… particularly the international connectivity through Heathrow and Gatwick …”

11. http://democracy.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/aksreigate/images/att5691.pdf

12. Not five million as stated by the Executive Member for Finance. Executive Report (12/11/2015) reported revenue reserves of £10.75m (£6.3m general reserves, £0.6m corporate plan delivery fund, £1m business rates equalisation reserve, £550k insurance reserve and £1.5m superannuation reserve, over and above the reserves expected to be spent in 2016/17 (£1.4m of corporate plan delivery fund, growth points, family support, high street innovation and business support scheme funds).

13. Answers to budget questions confirmed £9.5m of unspent planning monies (in the Capital Grants Unapplied Reserve which is not included in the capital budget).

14. Answers to budget questions confirmed that the Council has £5.2m New Homes Bonus currently in the bank from last year, £3m more is expected this year (totalling just over £8m) and a further £3.6m expected in 2016/17 (so a total of £12m which could be utilised in the 2016/17 budget.

15. Instead the Council plans to implement the rise of allotment charges deferred from last year: “The Panel noted the planned removal of discounted allotment fees for pensioners, which had been withdrawn from the 2015/16 budget proposals. The Panel was informed that demand for allotments varied across the borough but was generally high, with waiting lists in some areas”.

16. The Leader of the Council criticised the Greens for voting against the budget because “we didn’t spend it in the right areas”. This is indeed why we voted against the budget – what better reason could there be? We voted for the Council Tax rise, which is the direct result of the money being stripped from the Council by central government.

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