Government puts 625 affordable homes for Cambridgeshire 'in jeopardy'
Ben Hatton Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Archant
Previously approved plans for 625 new affordable homes in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are “in jeopardy”.
It comes after the government withdrew its initial funding commitment to the combined authority.
On Thursday (March 11), the government said it would not continue to fund a £100 million affordable housing scheme “on its current basis”, citing concerns over progress and value for money so far.
The commitment for £100 million to help deliver 2,000 affordable homes in five years was part of the 2017 devolution deal.
But £45 million of the programme’s funds, which were expected to have been provided to the combined authority by now, are still outstanding.
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A government spokesperson said on Friday that the combined authority “needs to take a different approach in order to deliver enough affordable homes”.
They said “we will now offer further funding, subject to further work on the details”.
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The combined authority’s affordable housing programme works by offering a grant or loan to third party developers or housing associations to help make it viable to build affordable housing.
Analysis by the Local Democracy Reporting Service shows plans for 625 new affordable homes meet the criteria of projects previously approved by the combined authority, but that will now be subject to further government scrutiny.
The homes would be a mix of social and affordable rent, and shared ownership, and would be located across the county, including Peterborough, Fenland, Huntingdonshire and East Cambridgeshire.
The combined authority had allocated £25.6 million for those projects – but the plans will now be subject to agreement with the government.
Political rivals for the mayoral elections in May have been among those strongly criticising the mayor and leader of the combined authority, Conservative James Palmer over his handling of the situation.
The Liberal Democrat candidate, Aidan Van de Weyer, said: “Well over 600 desperately needed affordable homes have been put in jeopardy by James Palmer’s mismanagement and hubris.
“In Peterborough, 232 families on the waiting list may not be getting a house because of Palmer’s failure. In March, 208 homes might not now be built.
Across Huntingdonshire, 108 houses are affected. And in Littleport, 77 homes are under threat.”
Labour’s mayoral candidate, Nik Johnson, said Mr Palmer “pledged to build these 625 homes – along with hundreds more – and personally took charge of the scheme when he sacked the previous Conservative portfolio holder.
“The responsibility very much sits on his shoulders.”
Cllr Johnson said: “The real victims are those people from across the area who are desperately in need of decent low cost and social housing”.
According to the combined authority, all affordable housing projects in the programme where construction has or will have begun before March 31, 2021, “should be supported and delivered by the combined authority in the usual way as part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government programme”.
But a spokesperson said “for those schemes that are expected to start between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, for which the minister has in his letter indicted initial commitment, discussions are taking place”.
Talks are ongoing between the combined authority and government about the details of each scheme and where the funding should come from.
The combined authority’s programme includes 625 such homes where the start date comes after March 31 according to analysis by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
The combined authority spokesperson said: “We will keep grant applicants informed as these discussions progress. We aim to complete the MHCLG programme by funding as many affordable housing schemes as we can up to March 2022.”
A spokesperson for the ministry of housing, communities and local government said on Friday (March 12): “This government supports areas to deliver homes which meet the needs for local people.
“We’ve committed £170 million to affordable housing in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal.
“Having reviewed progress, we have concluded the combined authority needs to take a different approach in order to deliver enough affordable homes.
“We have informed the mayor that we will now offer further funding, subject to further work on the details, to ensure affordable housing is delivered at pace and with value for money for the taxpayer.
“We will continue to work with the combined authority on the delivery of its affordable housing ambitions and remain committed to the shared priorities set out in the original devolution deal.”
The government said the combined authority must invest all the money returned to it from its £40 million affordable housing loan fund into schemes that will maximise additional starts by March 202”.
It has also said that it will only provide additional funding for those projects in the programme that will deliver starts on site before March 31, 2022, and that demonstrate an average intervention rate similar to other government schemes.
On Thursday the mayor, Mayor Palmer, said: “The government has said very clearly that they will enable the combined authority to deliver existing schemes in the pipeline – so there will be money available.
“How much that is I don’t know, because we’ve got to sit down with them and discuss how much money we need in the short term”.
He said: “The government have not made it easy for us to deliver on their programme.
“There was the seven months delay they created at the outset, which meant 142 homes could not be funded and our entire pipeline of projects was lost.
“There were repeated queries and clarifications, taking up officer time that could have been used on delivering homes. Finally, there has been the delay on releasing the final years’ funding and dispute over the end date.”
Mr Palmer added: “MHCLG do not see their current programme as a chance to try alternative solutions, and are continuing with a short-term focus on arbitrary targets and deadlines,” he said.
The mayor added: “I will ask the Combined Authority Board to agree to the steps necessary to complete this MHCLG Affordable Housing Programme, and to mandate me to continue the development of a housing delivery plan that works for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”
Affordable housing projects in the combined authority pipeline that are due to start after the March 31, 2021, date, for which a CPCA spokesperson said the government has “indicted initial commitment”.
The spokesperson said “discussions are taking place between the combined authority and government about the details of each scheme and where the funding should come from”.
Units to be funded by the combined authority
Start on site date
Staniland Court, Werrington, Peterborough
Wisbech Road, March, Fenland
Middlemoor Road, St Mary’s, Ramsey, Huntingdonshire
Rear of High Street, Stilton
Norwood Road, March, Fenland
Hereward Hall, March, Fenland
Queens Street, March
Old Motel Site, North Street, Stilton, Huntingdonshire
Station Road, Littleport, Ely, East Cambs
Former East Anglia Galvanizing Works, Oundle Road, Peterborough
Land Rear of High Street, Needingworth, Huntingdonshire
Wisbech Road, Littleport
Great Haddon, London Road, Yaxley, Peterborough