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Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority reveals minimal role in the future delivery of affordable housing

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The Combined Authority has revealed that any future role it will play in the delivery of affordable housing will be minimal, unless government funding is forthcoming.

However, the authority is optimistic it has learned from its mistakes, and should grants become available, it could yet have a role in the delivery of affordable homes.

The announcement comes after months of speculation following the withdrawal of more than £45 million of government funding.

The Combined Authority has previously helped deliver 14 homes for local people in Burwell.
The Combined Authority has previously helped deliver 14 homes for local people in Burwell.

Under former Mayor, James Palmer, the ‘original’ Affordable Housing Programme that ended 31 March 2021 had 37 schemes all with allocated funding, totalling 733 housing units (started), but only 451 were finished.

Metro Mayor Johnson cancelled the affordable housing project in mid-2021, as part of his election promise.

Since March 2022, there has been no formal commitment from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) as to future affordable housing projects.

The Combined Authority Board asked (29 June) the Housing Committee to consider any future role for the CPCA on funding co-ordination, skills, and community housing, looking for any members with potential opportunities to carry forward progress already learned from the cancelled project.

At their meeting, Chair of the Housing and Communities Committee, Cllr Lewis Herbert and Roger Thompson, Director of Housing and Development proposed a supportive role for the CPCA.

“The CPCA should maintain the expertise and skills acquired from the housing program that finished on 31 March 2022…” Mr Thompson explained.

“…along with a capability to respond to future housing initiatives should funding for them become available.”

Chair, Cllr Herbert added: “We have maintained a very good relationship with DLUHC throughout this, and there may yet be some flexibility in their decision that future funding for projects from central government could be made available to us.

“Bearing in mind there is a government review already underway into the governance of the CPCA, it may be that this committee evolves in terms of its focus, and it could take on extra work should the housing funding situation change.”

A sum of £100 million had originally been promised by the Government under the devolution deal to the CPCA back in 2017, targeting a delivery of 2,000 new affordable homes.

The then Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, Luke Hall MP, revealed in an exchange of letters with the Mayor that the Government was most displeased at the apparent lack of progress.

Despite continued protestations from Palmer that everything was ‘on track’, the project was eventually deemed unaffordable and unachievable, and in April 2021 government funding of project was withdrawn leaving some £45 million of the orignial £100 million still unpaid.

At the time, Aidan Van de Weyer, Liberal Democrat candidate for the mayoral election, said: “This is disastrous news for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – as a result of Palmer’s incompetence and arrogance, hundreds of desperately needed affordable houses will now not get built.

“The housing programme is now at an end and several schemes that had been approved – and that residents were looking forward to – will have the rug pulled from under them.”

Mayor Palmer lost the election to Dr Nik Johnson in May 2021, partly on the election promises from Johnson that he would only give financial support to projects where ‘the spade is already in the ground’, and cease all others.

When the ‘second’ Affordable Housing Programme from April 2021 to March 2022 got underway, Mayor Johnson delivered an additional 716 units (finished) from 8 schemes.

Bringing the two programmes together, the total affordable housing delivered is just 1,449 homes, amounting to 72.5% of the target set by the government’s devolution deal, and with the average grant rate for each affordable home equating to £38,700.

The CPCA has no capital at present beyond its current resources for the building of new affordable housing, and there is very little chance of any additional funds coming from central government.

Members of the Housing and Communities Committee approved the recommendations and agreed upon a three-zone strategy for affordable housing delivery should funding become available: Peterborough, Rural Cambridgeshire, and then Greater Cambridge in that order.

After the meeting, Councillor Herbert said: “The immediate role of the CPCA over the next three years is to oversee roughly £40m of investment in the completion of nearing 1000 new affordable homes still to be built, in schemes approved up to March of this year, and to ensure schemes meet their agreed commitments in full.

“Beyond that, we have no foreseeable additional new national funding for affordable housing from Homes England or the Government, but we will be ready to respond should new affordable housing bidding opportunities for Combined Authorities arise in the future.

“We know that member councils and local housing associations are continuing direct discussions with Homes England on specific schemes, and we wish them success, particularly given the scale of the challenge households face in finding housing locally they can afford.”

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