Loan for new homes on Ely RAF base get go ahead

88 homes in Ely owned by the Ministry of Defence and once used by USAF service familes could be boug

88 homes in Ely owned by the Ministry of Defence and once used by USAF service familes could be bought and modernised by East Cambs District Council. Picture: ARCHANT and MOD - Credit: Archant

The combined authority has agreed to lend East Cambs District Council £24million to buy 88 “derelict” former RAF homes in Ely, despite fears it represents a large proportion of the authority’s funding for affordable homes.

Mayor James Palmer said that the site would be “refurbished, revamped” as he welcomed plans for the

Mayor James Palmer said that the site would be “refurbished, revamped” as he welcomed plans for the derelict site. Here he is pictured with leader of East Cambs District Council Cllr Charles Roberts. Picture: JAMES PALMER OFFICE - Credit: Archant

Buying the homes, which have been derelict for “a number of years”, was branded a “quick win” in bringing new affordable housing to the region.

Yesterday the board of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority agreed to provide a two year repayable commercial loan, capped at £24.4million, to the East Cambridgeshire Trading Company (ECTC) to purchase a site currently comprising 88 empty houses and land.

According to a report which went before the board: “The loan will be used to acquire the units and complete a rolling refurbishment programme including the division of four units into two parts to result in the finished scheme comprising 92 units, 15 of which will be “affordable”.

“The units have been unoccupied for a number of years. Through this transaction they will rapidly be returned to the market for the benefit of local families.

“Providing the loan will enable 15 of the units to become affordable units for the benefit of a local community lands trust, without any grant being required. If the site was purchased by private developers, they will have no obligation to supply any affordable housing.

James Palmer, mayor of the combined authority, welcomed the decision, expressing his gratitude none of the buildings had been vandalised while lying empty.

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Roger Thompson, director of housing and development, said the loan would deliver affordable housing “at no cost to the taxpayer”. He said it was a low risk proposal which had the potential to deliver quickly.

There were, however, concerns about the size of the grant, and whether it was the best way to address the need for affordable housing in the county.

Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, sits on the board. He said the loan was about a quarter of the £100 million budget the combined authority had for providing new housing.

Cllr Herbert said: “I do have concerns about how the overall affordable housing provision is progressing. I think we have had a massive slow down in delivery of affordable housing. We fought long and hard for this money.”

Cllr Herbert said the Ely scheme did not deliver enough affordable housing, and was concentrated in an area where there was not as much need as there is in other areas like Cambridge city and Peterborough. He said allocating £24million out of a £100million budget was questionable, especially given what he said was a lack of delivery elsewhere.

Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer, who was representing South Cambridgeshire District Council on the board, also expressed his concern that little appeared to be being done to reach the authority’s target for providing new affordable homes.

Mr Palmer said there was a difference between loaning the money and granting it, and pointed out this was not the same as spending the cash outright.

“I think this is absolutely common sense,” said Mr Palmer. “These houses have been empty for years. The best thing so far is that no one has gone and vandalised them. They are sitting there empty. This opens up the site for housing.”

In a post on his social media page he added: “When we face a housing crisis, people rightly get cross when they see properties sitting empty that, with some investment, could be turned into homes for people to live in.

“We have 88 vacant homes owned by the MOD at Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely, that have been sitting there for years now, and it is frankly wrong.

“So I’m delighted that the Combined Authority Board yesterday agreed to provide a loan of £24.4 million, working with our partners East Cambridgeshire District Council, to give us the chance to buy these homes and bring them back into use, including creating 15 affordable homes, and four additional units taking the site to 92 homes.

“It is worth restating that this is a loan not a grant and is repayable within two years, with a share of profit and interest that could generate an additional £1.5 million for the Combined Authority, on top of the original loan.

“Money is projected to start returning to the Combined Authority from Autumn 2019, with the final repayment by the end of 2020. This money will then be reused to unlock further housing developments, including affordable homes, in a revolving fund that can bring forward a potentially limitless amount of homes.

“The site will be refurbished, revamped and sold back to the market via the East Cambs Trading Company, the wholly owned development arm of East Cambridgeshire District Council.

“There is also the potential for the Combined Authority to develop a further 62 homes on infill land on the site as a further homes development.

“The combined authority’s housing strategy is all about finding innovative ways to deliver new housing, including affordable homes, which this area so desperately needs. This scheme absolutely ticks those boxes.”