What is ‘the HIF bid’?
This is a bid by Wiltshire Council for Govt. Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF)
money. The HIF is a Government grant programme (now closed) that aims to reduce the number of housing sites being held back because the cost of building the homes plus the infrastructure is too great. It does this by paying for infrastructure, such as roads, to enable more houses to be built in high demand areas, to help deliver houses that would not otherwise be built1, and where there is strong local community support.
HIF funding was principally designed to overcome ‘strategic sites’ in Local Development Plans being held up due to developers being unable afford2 the necessary infrastructure. The HIF eligibility criteria also state that a bid for HIF funding needs to support the delivery of an up-to-date plan or to speed up getting one in place, and that if awarded, the grant needs to be spent by April 2021.
Wiltshire Council put in a bid for £75m to pay for roads to the south and east of the town on the basis that 7,500 houses be built on one huge strategic site to the East of the town. The grant was awarded in principle in October 2019 but negotiations with Homes England are still underway (as of August 2020).
1. The Govt. website states that a HIF bid must “provide strong evidence that the infrastructure is necessary to unlock new homes and cannot be funded through another route.”
2. The ability for developers to afford to put infrastructure in place is assessed under ‘Viability Assessments’ which allow developers a profit of at least 20% on their investment.
What is ‘the HIF bid’?
This is a very good question and one to which questions to the Council have not provided any satisfactory answers. It is our view that HIF bid funding should not have been granted for building in the area for a number of key reasons.
First of all, Chippenham is not in a high demand housing area (one of the HIF criteria). In fact, the majority of houses that would be built, would be occupied by people moving from areas in which house prices are higher, and commuting back out to their places of employment. We know this would the case from our experience previous developments in the town.
Secondly, land to the East of Chippenham, including that at Hardens and New Leaze farm, was put forward at the Chippenham Site Allocations Plan ‘Examination in Public’ as viable with all necessary infrastructure, including roads (the Planning Inspector rejected this land being included in the Plan for other reasons), which contradicts another of the HIF funding criteria.
Thirdly, the HIF eligibility criteria state that there must be local support for the development being proposed and we know this was particularly important in the early stages of taking the bid forward (i.e. without it, the bid should not have been continued). Yet the HIF bid was never consulted on publicly and wasn’t even debated at a Wiltshire Council meeting, prior to it being awarded.
After the bid was awarded small roadshow that was undertaken which is reported to have revealed a majority of people were not in favour, although the output has (perhaps unsurprisingly) not been published. A Freedom of Information request also revealed that Chippenham Town Council sent a letter of support at the critical early stages of the bid in November 2018, several months before Chippenham Town councillors were informed about it and before it was discussed at any Chippenham Town Council meeting.
Fourth, the HIF bid proposals made by Wiltshire Council were neither in the Local Plan nor part of the Local Plan Review (which had been considering about 3,000 houses in different locations around the town) which has been slowed significantly (rather than “speeded up”) by the HIF bid.
Finally, the Avon and Marden valleys are probably Chippenham’s most valuable ecological assets and contains valuable farmland, much of it in public ownership, which would be lost to future generations, who will be in greater need of it as our climate changes. This coupled with the fact that proposals for a strategic site on land East of Chippenham have been rejected once before, means the Council is taking a gamble on being allowed to build here before the evidence as to whether this is a suitable site has even been considered.
So what should the future development of Chippenham look like?
In our view, future development should be:
Proportionate - growing at a pace that allows people to live near where they work, rather than having to commute many miles by car to their place of employment or for shopping and entertainment;
Employment led - allowing skilled people to work here and spend their income in the local economy;
Affordable - so that the people who grow up here can afford to buy their own house if they want to stay, rather than being priced out by people commuting to jobs outside the area;
Sustainable - avoid destroying the natural environment and farmland on which future generations will increasingly depend, and avoid adding greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. through significantly increased commuting) that will drive dangerous climate change and work against the Govt.’s own climate change targets.