Bath and North East Somerset Council will not keep the rent collected from the Lower Bristol Road traveller site, it has emerged.
Instead, a Registered Housing Provider will be handed a 125-year contract by the Council which will allow the social landlord to keep all the rent collected from the 13-pitch site, despite the fact it is the Council paying the vast bulk of the construction costs.
The news has led to accusations that B&NES taxpayers will be getting a ‘bad deal’ from the arrangement, with opposition Conservatives warning that the Liberal Democrat-run authority is paying well over the odds for construction of the traveller site.
In a report to the authority’s Liberal Democrat Cabinet published this week, it was also revealed that if two or more of the traveller pitches remain empty for more than a year, then as part of the contract the Council becomes liable for paying 50% of the rent to the Housing Provider.
Within the Council report it was also confirmed that a £750,000 grant towards the cost of the project from the Homes and Communities Agency would be added to the Council’s own contribution of £1.8 million, meaning the total budget for the project will be £2.55 million, not the £1.8 million which the Council’s ruling Liberal Democrats had originally claimed.
The report also reveals that ‘no other options’ were considered by the Council, despite Conservatives highlighting the fact that other local authorities have secured a greater financial contribution from both the HCA and private housing providers.
Conservative shadow spokesman for Homes and Planning, Cllr Liz Richardson, said:
“This project has been woefully mismanaged by the Lib Dems, leaving the Council with an unnecessarily huge bill and resulting in a bad deal for local taxpayers.
“The Council’s Lib Dem leadership had given the impression that B&NES will be able to keep the rent collected from the traveller site in order to help cover the cost of construction. We now know that not to be true, with the income going to a private landlord instead.
“We also now know that the total cost of the project will in fact be £2.55 million, not the £1.8 million previously claimed by B&NES.”
It was recently revealed that neighbouring North Somerset Council is paying just £600,000 towards the cost of a much larger 24-pitch traveller site, having secured £2.16 million from the Homes and Communities Agency, as well as an undisclosed contribution from a housing provider.
Councillor Richardson added:
“At £190,000 per pitch, the amount B&NES is paying is way above the cost of any other traveller site we have been able to find in the country. Even the Gypsy Council UK have said they’ve never heard of a traveller site costing so much.
“The Council will of course be entitled to collect Council Tax from residents of the site, but even if the site is fully occupied all the time it will still take over a hundred years to cover the cost to the Council.
“The Council has a duty to find appropriate sites for traveller pitches, but it also has a duty to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. B&NES is clearly failing in this duty.”