Housing first battleground in mayor elections for Cambridgeshire
- Credit: Archant
Two mayoral candidates strongly criticised Conservative mayor James Palmer for his handling of a £100 million affordable housing programme.
The Lib Dems branded it “incompetent” and claimed it was “putting in jeopardy future funding deals” with the government.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) “suspended” some previously agreed plans worth over £10 million. The money would have helped with the delivery of 249 affordable homes but anticipated funds have been withheld by the government.
The government committed £100 million to CAPCA to help deliver 2,000 new affordable homes over five years.
But there are concerns over whether the government will hand over the remaining £45 million – £15 millions of which is now overdue by over a year.
CAPCA says further government funding is expected “imminently” and that the suspension is only a “backup”.
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But the delay means some schemes are being only provisionally approved.
Others previously “unconditionally” approved schemes are being “suspended” to prioritise those where construction is due to start soon.
Lib Dem mayoral candidate, Aidan Van de Weyer, said: “James Palmer’s incompetence is putting the delivery of affordable housing in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough at risk.
“The failure of Palmer to give adequate reassurance to government means that we have not received the last two years’ of funding for affordable housing: nearly half of the £100m agreed as part of the devolution deal is now being withheld.
“This fiasco could lead to a future disaster for affordable housing in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. “Government will no longer trust a Palmer-led Combined Authority not to mismanage the millions of pounds handed over to it, putting in jeopardy future funding deals
“Palmer’s Combined Authority has been in dispute with the Ministry of Housing since September 2019, and there is no sign that the issue is likely to be sorted out soon.”
Labour’s mayoral candidate, Nik Johnson, said: “The fact that over £40 million has just been withheld by central government with the mayor desperately struggling to meet the basic criteria for these projects is evidence in itself of the problem.”
He said the mayor “personally pledged delivery of these homes, and later took individual charge of the scheme when he sacked the previous Conservative portfolio holder.”
He added: “He has failed to deliver on one of the most important promises to both Cambridgeshire residents and to the government.
“This sad saga has been going on for 18 months now and those who suffer most are those in our communities who remain desperately in need of decent low cost and social housing.”
Mayor Palmer said that the only factor holding up the cash are civil servants “who are admittedly under great strain dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic”.
He said: “The Government set us a target to deliver 2000 homes by 2022 and this is what we have been doing.”
He said: “The targets set by government and delivered by the Combined Authority are ready to be hit, and government have not indicated they are unhappy with our progress.”
He said that being a Mayor is “not just about being a distributor for government money; anybody can do that. “The value of the role comes from using our local knowledge and our ability to innovate to do things differently and deliver where others have failed”.
He said policies such as £100K Homes, Community Land Trusts and CAPCA’s £40m Revolving Fund “are some of the most innovative housing policies in the country.
“They pass control from civil servants, housing associations and landlords to communities, builders and buyers, and some people might be uncomfortable with this, but it is only with innovations like these will we ever resolve the housing crisis.”
CAPCA housing director, Roger Thompson, told the housing committee on January 11: “We are still on target to deliver the 2,000-unit target by March 2022”.
The schemes which were “suspended” include 50 in Norwood Road, 19 in Hereward Hall and 21 in Queens Street, all in March.
CAPCA later agreed to a £1,576,000 grant for 38 homes at Wisbech Road, Littleport.
The government has not publicly stated why the anticipated funds have not been received.