Questions raised over cost of infrastructure to build thousands of new Calderdale homes
Questions over infrastructure and how it will be funded to enable some proposed housing schemes which might be built on sites allocated in Calderdale’s Local Plan to go ahead were voiced at this week’s council Cabinet meeting.
Calderdale Council’s Cabinet endorsed to full council the programme of Supplementary Planning Documents for the Local Plan and this started debate about issues of prudential borrowing for infrastructure costs and infrastructure – roads, schools, GP surgeries – itself.
When the ruling Labour group invited opposition group councillors to comment, debate turned again to how some projects are financed by prudential borrowing, by which councils can borrow at special rates.
Conservative group leader Coun Steven Leigh (Ryburn) has raised the issue on this item and other items of council business across a range of council committees and scrutiny boards, and at the Local Plan phase two hearings which have just concluded.
Coun Leigh says he is concerned about the levels of borrowing using this method.
“I am very concerned about our ongoing ability to service prudential borrowing.
“The Local Plan is a huge enterprise, the value of houses in it is in the billions of pounds.
“In the interests of transparency we ought to have an estimate of how much prudential borrowing is going to be required,” he said.
It had been indicated in the hearings that some prudential borrowing would be necessary to fund some infrastructure to progress sites before receipts from developers might be received by the council.
Cabinet member for Regeneration and Strategy, Coun Jane Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot) said she was aware Coun Leigh had raised his concerns in the hearings.
The SPDs set out the mechanism for that, including receipts from developers and Roof Tax per home, within the accompanying Infrastructure Development Plan and in terms of his general point referred Coun Leigh to the council’s internal auditors.
Coun Leigh said he was a member of the Audit Committee and knew about the financial issues. This was about the council’s ability to pay, with about £116 million of borrowing to be paid back.
Cabinet member for Resources, Coun Silvia Dacre (Lab, Todmorden) said it appeared Coun Leigh did not like Cabinet members telling him over and over again that in terms of metropolitan councils Calderdale had the second lowest levels of external debt, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).
“We should be careful with our debt but it is a low proportion and we can afford to pay it.
“Raising alarmist allegations about our ability to pay is unhelpful and inaccurate,” she said.
If approved, the Local Plan will determine where homes and businesses might be developed until the mid 2030s.