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Bid to get building work back on track
EXPERT brokers will work with Swindon Council as part of a Government scheme to get stalled housing deals up and running and builders back on mothballed sites.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles is concerned that too much development is being stalled because of economically unrealistic agreements negotiated between councils and developers at the height of the housing boom.
The deals, known legally as section 106 agreements, require developers to make a financial contribution to the community or provide housing, amenities or infrastructure as part of their planning permission.
Swindon is among the first 10 councils to benefit from the new scheme, which will see teams of intermediaries offer a free advice and support service to councils and developers, and be available to help kick-start renegotiations of these deals so building can get under way.
The Government says Swindon is part of an initial wave of councils keen to address obstacles that are preventing development in their area. The experts will provide technical expertise to unlock negotiations, act as go-betweens in disputes and offer access to a range of support services.
Coun Jim Grant, the leader of Swindon Council’s Labour group, said this intervention at national Government level, clearly demonstrated that Mr Pickles was unhappy with the progress of developments in Swindon.
He said: “By identifying Swindon in this way, Eric Pickles is making a clear statement that he has no confidence in Swindon Council’s Conservative administration. “The Communities Secretary is spending public money on expert brokers to review numerous legal agreements over developments across the town.
“The council needs to be holding developers to account and ensuring they provide the local amenities they are obliged to create for communities across the town. “I am happy to listen to these expert advisers. However, my priority is the people of Swindon and I will continue to campaign for quality provision for communities when new housing is built.”
The other chosen councils are Leeds, Ipswich, Corby, Ashford, Gloucester, Kirklees, Carlisle, Northumberland and Durham.
Mr Pickles said: “Tackling problems with stalled development is essential to getting the builders back on moth-balled sites and building the homes we need. There is huge potential in sites to boost local economies and we simply cannot afford to have them lying idle because of earlier agreements that are no longer viable.
“The support and advice the expert brokers will offer is one of the many measures we have introduced to get development under way and I hope councils grab this chance to make use of the support we are offering.”
Coun Dale Heenan, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, said: “Several months ago Swindon Borough Council asked the Government for specialist advice on issues relating to Wichelstowe and this is being provided for free. “This will better enable the council to negotiate with developers in the future and if the Government can provide additional money to help towards infrastructure costs then great, let’s have those discussions. “This news should be welcomed and encouraged.
“Labour councillors need to learn to check their facts before jumping in with two feet but, all too often, their rhetoric for a headline comes before Swindon’s needs. “Labour may wish to build houses at any cost, but I believe that developments should only go ahead if the necessary roads, schools, green space and other infrastructure needs are delivered.”