Concerns over future funding of affordable housing programme after government questions Combined Authority’s progress

Mayor James Palmer said there is an urgent need for the affordable homes scheme to work across Cambr

Mayor James Palmer said there is an urgent need for the affordable homes scheme to work across Cambridgeshire. Here he is at the Rayners Green development site in Fordham where the first £100k homes started construction in March. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Concerns have been raised over the future funding of Cambridgeshire’s affordable housing programme after the government questioned the Combined Authority’s progress.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority overview and scrutiny committee heard on Thursday (July 30) that the government and Combined Authority have a different date in mind as to when the county’s £100million programme to build 2,000 affordable homes should be completed.

Meeting targets set by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will likely determine future funding.

In a letter from the minister for regional growth and local government, Simon Clarke MP, sent in July, the government raised a number of issues around governance and performance at the Combined Authority.

A copy of the letter seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service says: “To date there have been issues which suggest that the delivery capacity of the Combined Authority requires improvement.

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“This includes, for example, the delivery of the £100million affordable housing programme, on which the department wrote to your co-chief executives in June, outlining our differing view on the total additional starts on site delivered to date and confirming that further evidence of progress would be required before the department could make further funding available.”

Labour councillor Jocelynne Scutt said she had heard concerns related to the use of £40million of the authority’s current £100million.

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The Combined Authority has put aside £40million to be used as a rolling fund to lend to developers building schemes which include affordable homes. The idea is for the money to be repaid, thereby creating a reusable pot to continue delivery of affordable housing after the other £60million used for grants runs out.

A Combined Authority document from June this year said that from the £60million pot, a commitment has so far been made to fund 1,237 units, with 538 starts on site, and £27.2million allocated in funding.

The document shows £51.2million committed to be loaned for schemes which include affordable housing, which would deliver 53 affordable units, all of which the document said have started.

That makes an average of £48,500 per unit from the £60million affordable housing grant scheme, and around £1million per affordable unit from the revolving loan fund.

Cllr Scutt said: “There is some understanding within the community that further housing funds are not forthcoming to the Combined Authority because of the concerns about the £40million used of the £100million in the housing project, and as a consequence of that concern about the £40million, additional monies are not forthcoming.

“I would appreciate your response to that notion that is abroad.”

The mayor responded: “I’m not sure that that has been mentioned in any correspondence.”

But he did elaborate on two issues relating to the Combined Authority’s affordable housing scheme.

Asked about improving the delivery capacity of the affordable housing programme and the advice he has received from the government, the mayor said: “There has been conjecture on this. And again it comes down, I believe, to the rushed nature of delivery of the devolution deal.”

He said the government told the Combined Authority in September 2019 that the 2,000 affordable homes were expected to be complete by March 2021, but the mayor said it has always been the understanding of his authority that the end date was supposed to be March 2022.

He said the affordable housing programme “suffered a setback” in 2018 because “MHCLG (Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government) had not provided the statutory powers necessary to deliver the scheme. This caused a seven month delay in the programme where we were not able to bring forward any houses”.

“It feels like, from our perspective, that the goalposts have been slightly moved on this,” the mayor said. “There have been issues that have affected us negatively that have been no fault of our own.”

The mayor said he is meeting Mr Clarke for a one-on-one meeting next week, ahead of further meetings between the Combined Authority and government later in the year to discuss local governance and the authority’s progress.

“We have a meeting in September where I’m very confident we will be able to iron out these issues,” the mayor said.

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