A DECISION to sell council-owned land to private developers for housing, through Swindon Borough Council’s Housing Company, will go though, despite the concerns of opposition councillors.

The decision taken by the authority’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance Russell Holland to offer five parcels of land - Marigold Close in Haydon Wick and Nuffield Close, Rannoch Close, Ramleaze Drive and Sparcells Drive, all in Shaw - to builders had been called in to the scrutiny committee by Jim Grant, leader of the Labour group and Stan Pajak who leads the Liberal Democrats.

But after what is understood to be a frank exchange of views, the committee decided the decision would not be sent back to the cabinet for a rethink.

Chairman Bob Wright said: “The call-in procedure is about the procedure of the decision. It’s not about whether the decision was right, but about whether it was taken in the right way.

“At these things political party lines are exposed and there was lively discussion, but we decided that the reason for the call-in wasn’t procedural, so it won’t be referred back to cabinet.”

The administration hopes to sell the land to raise £1.9 million, with £1.4m returned to the council in surplus. But Coun Grant thinks the council’s housing company should be building houses on the land itself.

He said: “When the housing company was set up two years ago, it was to build houses for the council, so it could receive income, and it had cross party support.

“But it seems that’s not what it’s doing. In two years since it was set up it hasn’t built any houses at all - it looks like the administration is just using it to sell land. That means the council loses control over the types of housing that will be built. That cross-party support is waning rapidly.”

Coun Pajak added: “I think it goes to what the housing company was created for, to build houses or whether sale of land is included as this administration argues.

“I think there will be some correspondence about the definition of its purpose. It’s disappointing the call-in vote was lost, but I think we could hope for no better.”

Concern was also expressed that the council may be sailing close to the wind on accounting rules.

If the borough council sold the land itself, money it received would be deemed as capital, and could only be used for capital spending like new building or infrastructure.

By selling the land through the housing company, the money coming in will be classified as revenue and can be used in day to day spending on services.

Councillor  Russell Holland – Cabinet Member for Finance said: "Swindon Conservatives are making the decisions required to get the best value for money for Swindon residents.  Sometimes the Council will be able build houses and then sell them (like we did on Euclid street) at other times it will make better commercial sense to sell the land with planning permission and then let the private sector build the houses

" It's regrettable that Swindon Labour just like Jeremy Corbyn's national Labour party are so ideologically blinkered that they think that the Council must do absolutely everything.  It is Labour's obsession with wanting to control everything using public money that racked up so much debt for this country in the first place.  Having created the debt Labour then oppose every sensible measure which actually helps to make money just because the Conservatives proposed it. 

"Swindon Conservatives commercial strategy is making money for this Council."

Councillor Gary Sumner – Cabinet Member for Strategic Development added: "The Commercialisation Programme was to increase income and by releasing selected sites (with consent) to the market. As a result of doing this, those homes will be delivered far more quickly together with valuable revenue to enable us to help the residents of Swindon.

"We are delivering housing in sustainable locations using our own land and generating revenue? What could possibly be the problem with that? We fully intend to build ourselves where appropriate and will review sites on a case by case basis.

"I hope that Cllr Grant and colleagues are equally cooperative when we show them potential sites in their wards suitable for development. Any prevarication might tell a different story.”