Cheshire East Council is being accused of keeping quiet about millions of pounds in grants it has received from central government which campaigners say should have been shared with local communities.
According to the local campaign group Residents of Wilmslow, the Council has received £2.4m from the New Homes Bonus for properties built in Wilmslow since 2010 which it has kept to itself as extra income.
The New Homes Bonus is a grant paid by central government to local councils to reflect and incentivise housing growth in their areas. It is based on the amount of extra Council Tax revenue raised for new-build homes, conversions and long-term empty homes brought back into use.
Councillor Mark Goldsmith - who is also a member of RoW, raised the issue of the New Homes bonus at the Wilmslow Town Council meeting on Monday, 17th October, informing his fellow councillors that members of Residents of Wilmslow have been pushing CEC to implement a process of consultation regarding these funds so the local council and residents can have a say in how the money is spent at a local level.
Cllr Goldsmith said "It was a government initiative in 2010 that would pay grants to councils to approve development. Since 2010 Wilmslow has generated £2.4m in New Homes Bonus. The understanding when this was launched was that local communities would be able to use this money in a way to compensate them for development that they were experiencing.
"The money wasn't there for ring fencing because it could be used for a wide variety of things that the local community wanted. The indication was that the local community would be consulted as to how that money would be spent - unfortunately Cheshire East in its wisdom decided to just grab the money and not talk to anyone about it and kept it quiet.
"We have in the last few months been raising why that was and why there was no proper consultation with the people of Wilmslow as to where the money was to be spent. The Local Plan will actually generate sums of about £7.4m in New Homes Bonus as well, this is totally in addition to S106 monies, or anything developers will pay at all, so this is just money that Cheshire East has taken for itself as general income."
He continued "With the help of Esther McVey as well, we've been talking to the Council as to why this was and how we can actually have some influence on how that £7.4m is spent towards Wilmslow and not just across the borough."
Residents of Wilmslow have a meeting scheduled on Wednesday with Rachel Bailey, the Leader of Cheshire East, and Kath O'Dwyer, acting Chief Executive of Cheshire East Council who Councillor Goldsmith said "acknowledge we are the only people who've actually raised this as an issue so far - although a lot of other independents throughout the county are expressing a lot of interest - and yes we are correct there should be a consultation process."
Cheshire East Council has confirmed to RoW that they hope to have a process in place by the end of this year.
Cllr Goldsmith added "Whilst they won't give us 100% of this bonus they are open to giving us a percentage of it, what percentage that is is yet to be seen and negotiated upon but at least it will be some funds as well.
"Also they're keen the money is used to support the Neighbourhood Plan on structural issues rather than in their words 'just more park benches'.
"So I would like to offer up, the Council will not just be getting the CIL money but it may well be getting New Homes Bonus money as well therefore I think that really helps the Neighbourhood Plan get the seed money and give it some strength to actually make the changes that its planning."
Councillor Goldsmith asked his colleagues and Wilmslow Town Council to help support RoW in pressurising Cheshire East "to actually implement the process of consultation so we can actually have some say in how the money is spent at a local level".
Wilmslow Town Council agreed that they would write Cheshire East Council in support of RoW in regard to the New Homes Bonus.
Updated Friday, 20th October - Cheshire East Council has now provided a statement regarding the funds it has received from the New Homes Bonus.