'What have we got for this?' New homes in Biggleswade have netted almost £8m for Central Beds Council - but where is the investment in the town?

No leisure centre, no splash park and a 'vague promise of a health hub'

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 9:53 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 10:00 am
Biggleswade town centre
Biggleswade town centre

More cash should be going to Biggleswade argued independent councillors - after development in the town netted almost £8million for Central Beds Council.

The councillors called for clearer signals that investment is redirected to the town, at the council's budget meeting.

The latest new homes bonus figures for Biggleswade show it raised £7.8m in recent years, an increase of £1m on two years ago, according to Independent Aspley and Woburn councillor John Baker.

New homes bonus is a grant paid by central government to local authorities to encourage housing growth in their areas.

Councillor Baker urged Central Beds Council to consider spending money in areas where this new homes bonus is raised.

"We could liaise with town and parish councils, after a successful set of bids for community asset grants working with those authorities," he said.

"We could ask them how they think a small amount of money could be useful for their area, where we set limits based on the level of new homes bonus locally.

"This would ensure areas which receive more new homes bonus could receive greater grants."

Independent Biggleswade North councillor Steve Watkins explained: "Biggleswade has made the highest contribution of new homes bonus between 2015 and 2021, nearly £8m.

"Residents will rightly ask 'What have we got for this?' as there's no new leisure centre for the town, as being provided elsewhere in Central Bedfordshire.

"There's a vague promise of a health hub with income budgeted for a building which might never exist.

"The residents of Biggleswade have lobbied for about ten years for a splash park. We can't even provide them with £600,000 out of that £8m.

"A senior officer of this council said to me a few weeks ago: 'We've got more money than we know what to do with.' So my question is when will Biggleswade see some of this?" he asked.

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Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker recalled two years earlier Conservative Biggleswade South councillor Mark Foster saying: 'The new homes bonus is going to pay for your health hub'.

"Hello, where's the health hub? We don't have a health hub. So if councillor Foster can tell me when I'm going to get my health hub with £7.8m of new homes bonus I'd be very grateful."

Conservative Arlesey councillor David Shelvey told the council: "There are £17m grants to cover Covid this year, but nothing for the next financial year.

"From the efficiencies you can see, there are substantial pressures in both adults social care and children's services," he said.

"There are more we haven't identified, such as increasing referrals of vulnerable children, and we're expecting more demand for care and the cost of providing it.

"The adult social care increase of one per cent will help, but doesn't cover all the pressures.

"Inflation is five-and-a-half per cent and residents' budgets are stretched, but we need to keep our general council tax rise as low as possible, which I feel is the case at 0.949 per cent.

"Taking further amounts out of what are reasonably modest reserves, some of which are earmarked and can't be spent, wouldn't be prudent and risks greater pressures in the future.

"Those that really need it can get help through our council tax support scheme. We've an increased amount from government for that.

"I would mention one thing about the health hub in Biggleswade," added councillor Shelvey, who's the executive member for corporate resources. "That's still in the budget.

"If we reach agreement with the NHS, which is where this is currently, it'll go ahead. It's not been forgotten."

The 0.949 per cent increase in general council tax and the one per cent adult social care precept were approved by councillors.