Councils in Devon and Cornwall have pocketed more than £80 million from the Government for building 23,000 new homes under a bonus scheme designed to end the shortage of housing.
The coalition Government believes a cash bonus system will be more effective than Labour’s central Government targets in getting councils to approve much-needed developments.
But critics of the New Homes Bonus (NHB) – which reward councils financially for each home they build – argue council grant has merely been top-sliced and handed back to councils.
The Government released figures yesterday showing the nine local councils in Devon and Cornwall received a total of £80.9 million through the scheme for helping deliver 23,250 new-build properties and conversions and bringing 2,050 empty homes back into use since 2011.
The scheme is designed to provide an incentive for communities to support sustainable development, with the cash rewards going on other measures to benefit the local area, such as holding down council tax.
Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said: “Top-down regional strategies and eco-towns failed hard-working families who aspired to own their own home, and built nothing but resentment.”
He added the money councils received was for “getting Britain building, and leading to housing construction reaching its highest levels for seven years”.
He added: “And they are free to spend the money any way they like to benefit their local communities – whether that’s supporting frontline services, providing new facilities or freezing council tax.”
But official figures suggest while housebuilding in the Westcountry is showing signs of recovery, the industry is still well short of its peak.
Data shows work began on 4,790 “dwellings” in Devon and Cornwall in the year to September, a surge of 18% on the previous 12 months.
But the total remains well below 5,690 recorded in 2006/07 before the crash in housebuilding which exacerbated shortages.
Accompanying documents suggest the rate of new builds are at their fastest in the country in parts of the peninsula, notably Cornwall, West Devon, Teignbrige and East Devon. However, completion rates appear to be declining. Some 1,770 properties were finished in the year, down 19%.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband said councils should be given the power to override neighbouring “home-blocking” authorities and “land-hoarding developers” to build thousands of new homes. Mr Miliband said the “worst housing shortage for a generation” was driving up costs for first-time buyers as he outlined his party’s plan to build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020.