Marlborough's housing - Part 2: Finding homes for key workers & the future of St Peter's School building
The future of Marlborough's iconic St Peter's School building at the lower entrance to The Parade, was raised again last Monday at the Town Council Planning Committee meeting (March 19). The building and the land around it is owned by Wiltshire Council.
In a question to the meeting, Marlborough resident Ian Mellor reminded councillors that last year he and the Town Mayor had been at a meeting of the Wiltshire Council Cabinet when the leader, Baroness Scott, promised the town would be consulted on the building's future. They had asked Wiltshire Council to draw up a 'development brief' - and she had agreed one should be drawn up.
Since then nothing has happened. Mr Mellor said it was not acceptable that the building was being 'left to deteriorate, when it could be put to productive use for the community.' (At present a security compnay is being paid to keep the building safe.)
Town councillors agreed that County Hall should be reminded about the building and the promises. Councillors heard that it could solve some of the town's lack of truly affordable housing - and perhaps parking too.
The building and the railings in front of it are Grade II listed.
Wiltshire Council - taking note of Marlborough's dire need for really affordable homes and more parking - could without too much difficulty adapt the building to provide homes for young key workers (in health, education and care homes) and for more parking (especially for key workers who need to commute into the town by car).
The site is cost free. But who would pay for the necessary refurbishment and adaptation work?
One source could be the New Homes Bonus (NHB). This was introduced by the Coalition Government in 2011 giving councils payments equivalent to the council tax raised by new houses - the sum for each house paid for six years.
The idea was to 'incentivise a net increase in housing delivery nationwide' and the money was to be used by councils 'in consultation with local communities'. However, in line with current government policies, the money was not ring-fenced.
Some councils have been very open about their use of this money. For example, when South Hams District Council in Devon received £1,448,325 NHB money in 2017-18, they divided it between capital projects (£500,000), community projects and grants (£330,00) - and put the rest to bolster their central budget.
In another example, last October Cirencester Town Council complained they were not getting a fair share of Cotswold District Council's £13 million in NHB receipts, and asked for 'a public consultation' on its allocation in respect of a major (2,350 homes) development near the town.
Cotswold DC did point out that NHB money had enabled them to commit to building a decked car park in Cirencester 'which will provide a long term solution' to the town's 'parking pressures'. (There's an idea...)
Wiltshire Council seems to have added its NHB receipts wholesale to their general funding account. There is little or no mention of NHB money in budget papers. Though NHB receipts did crop up when the Council Leader, Baroness Scott, wanted to make a late change to the 2018-2019 budget by starting a 'street scene services' pot of money to be used mainly to combat litter and fly-tipping.
That new £670,000 budget line was made by taking £655,000 from the Rural Fund (for improving the environment in rural parts of Wiltshire) plus £14,000 magicked from its NHB receipts.
The NHB sums received by Wiltshire are considerable. In 2017-18 Wiltshire Council received NHB funds of £15,829,871. Next year they will receive £12,446,090. (The reduction between the two years results from a re-tuning of NHB to produce the 'extra money' provided to local authorities - and ring-fenced - for social care. Not, then, 'new money' for social services.)
South Hams complained that this change was costing them over half a million pounds in lost NHB funds in the coming financial year: "The Council has repeatedly made the point that the current crisis in funding for Adult Social Care is a national problem which needs new Government money, as opposed to reducing the New Homes Bonus funding to pay for this and therefore further burdening the council taxpayer to fund social care costs."
Wiltshire Council's spending of these funds needs to be seen to be fair to all council tax payers. Baroness Scott justified the sale of the amenity land off Rabley Wood View as the money raised would be 'for all Wiltshire'. Yet the Council did not put a penny of extra money towards the refurbishment of the Marlborough Youth Centre.
And Marlborough has not seen a penny of the Campus Policy millions spread around other Wiltshire towns. When Marlborough enquired about Campus funds some three years ago it was told there was no money left. That is strange because Wiltshire's budget for 2018-2019 itemises a £23.8million spend on 'campuses and hubs'.
What is more, it was only last December that Baroness Scott declared to her cabinet that plans for future campuses had been abandoned and the lack of money meant the "end of the campus programme." It took Ian Thorn, the Lib Dem leader on Wiltshire Council, to point out that this was "...undeniably unfair on those towns who have not benefited from the millions of pounds that have been spent on improving facilities in other areas."
"It is now vital," he continued, "that the Conservative leadership makes clear what it will do for the communities who have been so badly let down."
Here is an answer: Wiltshire Council should spend money from its NHB receipts to turn the redundant St Peter's School building into housing for key workers - especially those starting out on their careers - and some more parking that should probably be reserved for key workers and those who need to travel by car into the town to work in its shops and restaurants.
After all, not only is Wiltshire the county 'where everybody matters', but one of the Council's oft repeated aims is to 'strengthen communities' - and Marlborough needs some urgent strengthening.
Additional information (March 27): Unitary Councillor Stewart Dobson, who was unable to be at the Town Council Planning Committee meeting on March 19, tells marlborough.news that Wiltshire Council are drawing up a Draft Heritage Assessment of the St Peter's School building and its grounds.
Future articles on Marlborough and housing will look at the affordable housing levy charged on some new developments and on the Community Infrastructure Levy.