'Radical overhaul' promised for council owned property company

Power sharing trio signed historic agreement to run Cambridgeshire County Council.

Happiness is when you come together. Power sharing trio signed historic agreement to run Cambridgeshire County Council. Cllr Tom Sanderson (Independent) with Cllr Elisa Meschini (Lab) to his left and Lib Dem and now coalition leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha. - Credit: Archant

County council owned This Land Ltd faces a radical overhaul –or possible replacement – by the new joint administration.  

With issues surrounding its viability, a major review of This Land’s finances is about to begin.  

She may not see it as ‘sweet revenge’ but council leader Lucy Nethsingha will, on Tuesday July 6, 2021, exact something approaching that after the snub Conservative councillors delivered to her on Friday, February 23, 2018.  

Two and a half years ago Cllr Nethsingha wanted to pause the sale of chunks of council assets to its arm's length trading company. 

She told the commercial and investment committee the sale of these to This Land should only happen once a promised workshop on governance and risk had been arranged for councillors. 

Cllr Nethsingha was outvoted by the Tory majority, the sales went ahead, and This Land moved at break neck speed to acquire dozens of sites through a £100m loan from the council.  

But with the Conservatives defeated in May’s elections, and Cllr Nethingsha now heading the new joint administration, she has This Land in her sights.  

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The strategy and resources committee will be asked to approve the start of a “radical overhaul or replacement of This Land”. 

It will, says a report to the committee, redirect This Land Ltd towards building “genuinely affordable housing and supported living facilities”. 

One of Cllr Nethsingha’s other duties this week will be to determine which councillor sits on the board of This Land Ltd as a non-director.  

The position has, of late, been held by Conservative councillor Josh Schumann, who had previously been chair of the commercial and investment committee that rejected her motion two and a half years ago.  

It was Cllr Schumann who had been quizzed by the commercial and investment committee about the This Land brochure that “heavily featured upmarket images which suggested that affordability was not one of their main drivers”.  

Cllr Schuhmann said the point of This Land was “to generate as much income to support services for vulnerable residents as possible”. 

He is likely to be replaced on the This Land board by Cottenham Lib Dem councillor Neil Gough. 

Deputy chief executive Chris Malyon told the committee in 2018 that the council’s role as 100 per cent shareholder meant that they could not compel the company to deliver a certain percentage of affordable housing. 

He said that if the council did that “the dynamic would change” and the relationship would become contractual. 

And that, he warned, would have implications for the company’s ability to operate in a commercial environment.  

Cllr Nethsingha will, additionally, tell councillors this week that the new administration is to initiate a full review of council finances. 

There will be a freeze on major projects until that review is complete. 

But she pledged one of the new administration’s first tasks will be to work on a Covid Recovery Plan “for the county, its businesses, and its citizens”.