Entrepreneurial Cambridgeshire County Council sets out its stall for building homes and for a renewable energy strategy

Clare San Martin, of architects JTP, with East Cambs leader Councillor James Palmer at a pre Christm

Clare San Martin, of architects JTP, with East Cambs leader Councillor James Palmer at a pre Christmas reception at The Old Palace, Ely. - Credit: Archant

Cuts in government funding have prompted Cambridgeshire County Council to adopt an entrepreneurial spirit with the setting up of a company to deliver 2,000 homes over the next 10 years.

It brings the county council in line with East Cambs which set up Palace Green Homes in April last year to also increase local house building and to raise up to £5 million.

The county council has previously approved a business plan to build up to 350 council houses on 67 acres at Slade Farm, Burwell, but the latest report offers a more ambitious target.

The news comes as the county council also moves to adopting a new energy strategy that could see a ban on wind farms on council owned land lifted.

Four years ago the council refused permission for wind farms on four of its tenant farms – including those at Littleport and Coveney.

County councillors have been told the new housing company has 25 sites in mind that could be developed for a mixture of market sale/rent and social rent/share ownership schemes.

An officers’ report shared with councillors before Christmas says the revenue will help plug some of the gaps left by “unprecedented financial pressures” as government funding dries up but demand for services is on the increase.

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“The council is looking to alternative means of supporting the delivery of front line services from rationalising and commercialising its own resources, including the use of its property assets,” says the report.

The council will create a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to deliver its ambitious building programme with rental incomes approaching £11 million a year predicted after 10 years.

Another plus, identified by the council, is the provision of key worker housing as well as creating “new sustainable communities, supporting economic growth and regeneration”.

Profits are also expected from renewable energy as a ‘hung’ council with no party in overall control may overturn opposition to wind energy led by the previous Conservative administration.

In its energy strategy, the county council says Cambridgeshire has the technical potential to deliver nearly a third of its energy needs for buildings and for services but excluding transport.

Those councillors who have discussed the strategy to date (a three week public consultation began this week) included caveats that prevent growing maize on land for anaerobic digestion facilities that have to be transported up to 30 or 40 miles by road.

And the strategy will take on board comments by Councillor Josh Schumann who complained about the poor consultation process for the recently opened council owned Soham Solar Project. He claimed the council had “not engaged” with the public prior to permission being given for the 60 acre site at Triangle Farm that is expected to net £1 million a year.

However the council admits it could face difficulties in selling off surplus energy through the National Grid.

“Owing to the local grid network having reached its capacity in many parts of Cambridgeshire, connections to the grid to export electricity are difficult to obtain and costly,” says the report.

The council says it has £15million of energy saving projects including 24 schools with a further 32 schools being ‘signed up’ for energy performance measures.