‘Rother plans will cost Rye its station’

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What new tax benefit? A High Speed rail link that won't stop at Rye and will put thousands on the price of a new home in the town. Those are the consequences, insists Chris Coverdale

I commend John Howlett on his admirable summary in Rye News [see Opinions, September 12] of the failure and betrayal of the people of Rye by its town council in 1974. But I am sorry to say that the current town council has learnt nothing from the grievous mistakes of its forerunner and, at a meeting on September 15, agreed to support the introduction of a new tax on new homes in Rother to pay for the proposed High Speed rail link between Bexhill and Ashford.

The fact that Rother District Council is proposing to introduce this punitive new housing tax, the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), on all new homes is a surprise to most residents because the public consultation process is being carried out in virtual secrecy. If no one knows that they can have their say on whether or not this new tax is adopted, they will not put in their objections by September 26,  and the council will claim that, because it has received so few objections, the majority of residents are in favour of the new tax.

The council naively claims that if it adopts this new tax, property developers will provide the funds needed to upgrade local infrastructure required by the Neighbourhood Plan. They assert that the new tax is justified because it is “fairer, faster, more certain and more transparent than the current system of planning obligations” and it is needed to meet the £133 million budget shortfall in Rother’s infrastructure plan.

At first reading, this scheme to tax property developers and compel them to contribute to community infrastructure sounds like a good idea, but beware the stings in the tail. This scheme is not what it seems and it will provide no benefit whatsoever to the people of Rye. It is not the property developers who will bear the financial burden, but the first-time buyers and elderly or disabled.

Table 1: Proposed Residential CIL Charging Zones and Rates

Zone

CIL charging area

£ per sqm

1 Battle, Rural North and West £240
2 Rye and Rural East £160
3a Bexhill Central and East £100
3b Bexhill West £180
4 Strategic Allocations £100

 

Table 2: Preliminary Draft Charging Schedule: Non-residential development CIL Charges and Rates

Development Type

CIL rate

Retail: in centre convenience £100 sqm
Retail: out of centre convenience £120 sqm
Retail: out of centre comparison £250 sqm
Assisted Living/Extra Care Housing £250 sqm (if no affordable housing)
All other uses £0

The charging zones and rates in the consultation document tell their own story. New house-buyers purchasing a home of 100 square metres will each have to pay an additional lump sum of between £12,000 and £24,000 on the purchase price, while businesses buying new premises and existing home-owners will pay nothing.

The next sting is by far the most important. The adoption of the levy is purely voluntary. If the council decides not to adopt the scheme there is no compulsion from the Government to do so. However, if the scheme is adopted it will be compulsory from then on and enforceable by law. Unelected local government officers in Bexhill will have the power to fine or imprison offenders if the new tax is not paid. Is this really what the people of Rye want?

A third sting in the tail is the use to which the funds will be allocated. Rother justifies its introduction of the new tax with the claim that there is a £133 million shortfall in its infrastructure delivery plan (June 2014). Close examination of the plan shows that £130 million of the shortfall relates to the construction of the proposed new High Speed rail link from Bexhill to Ashford – stopping at Hastings but not at Rye or any intermediate stations.

This means that Rye will not only lose its station and train service, but residents will have to put up with years of construction mess and disruption in order to have a massive new High Speed rail link, raised above flood levels, thundering through the town and local area two or three times an hour.

The idea that a 30-mile High Speed rail link could be built for anything less than £2 billion is laughable. This project becomes nothing short of ludicrous when one discovers that its main purpose is to save a few commuters from Bexhill and Hastings 10 minutes on their trip to London – £2 billion spent for 2,000 commuter minutes saved works out at a cost of £1 million per commuter minute.

Are residents really willing to introduce a new housing tax which will place the burden of funding the construction of a High Speed rail link to Bexhill on first-time buyers and the elderly, when there is absolutely no benefit and massive disadvantages to Rye or anyone in the area?

I urge everyone to make their views known not only to Rother District Council, but also to your town councillors, as it is they who have decided on your behalf to go ahead with this new tax.

* Tax will add £18,000 to cost of a new home – see Charles Harkness in News