Payback on housing loans likely to be delayed as East Cambridgeshire Council assesses impact of cornonavirus on its finances

Haddenham Community Land Trust housing, The site, off West End on rural land at the Aldreth end of H

Haddenham Community Land Trust housing, The site, off West End on rural land at the Aldreth end of Haddenham, began taking shape earlier this year but has been held up by the coronavirus pandemic. Funding from East Cambs Council likely to be re-scheduled. Picture; PALACE GREEN HOMES. - Credit: Archant

Halting work on land trust housing at Haddenham and refurbishing former Ministry of Defence homes in Ely will delay loans made by East Cambridgeshire District Council to fund the projects.

The council has produced a wide-ranging report on the effect of Covid-19 on its finances that covers the range of challenges it is likely to face.

Its commercial arm – East Cambs Trading Company (ECTC) – was due to repay loans in full by March 2021.

“This is now considered unlikely, with work continuing to determine a more likely repayment schedule,” says the corporate management team. Their report has been circulated to councillors. Haddenham Community Land Trust began construction on its first project, West End Gardens, earlier in the year. However a statement on the builders’ website, Palace Green Homes says work stopped once the lockdown began. It includes 54 homes, 19 of which will be for community benefit.

Palace Green Homes also halted work on refurbishing 92 former MoD homes, next to the Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely.

The project has been supported by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, who provided funding of £24.4 million. East Cambridgeshire District Council granted an additional loan of £1.5 million.

The report says Government assistance has already filtered through to local council to help through the coronavirus pandemic.

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East Cambs received payments of £43,422 and £894,826 but officials don’t expect to know until July more of the financial impacts on ECTC and East Cambs Street Scene (ECSS).

“There has been a shift from the Government and other statutory arrangements, which enables the nation to move to the recovery stage,” says the report.

“In anticipation of further Government guidance, the council, and its officers, are already preparing and considering what the next steps may be.

“Whilst the Business Continuity Group will continue to ensure that services operate smoothly, they will now also consider what recovery measures are required for the medium to long term.”

The council will also evaluate current working practices and changes made during the pandemic. If successful, some changes may become permanent.

“For example, video conferencing has cut back on unnecessary travel, officers and members have benefited and welcomed weekly updates and formal committee meetings have been able to continue via video conferencing,” says the report.

A wide range of support across the business and community has been provided as the council began an accelerated programme in response to the pandemic.

“Officers have worked extensively with partner agencies, parish councils, community groups and the third sector to ensure that every settlement in the district has access to help and advice,” says the report.

And its been a case of “’business as usual’ as practicably possible and consistent with public health guidelines to protect staff and customers”.

“The council acted promptly and effectively to respond to the Cvoid-19 crisis; adopting new ways of working, and making necessary governance and financial decisions consistent with our constitutional obligations”. From the outset the council said it wanted to ensure that everything was being done that could be done to assist all of the different work streams that were happening across the district to reach the vulnerable community.

Tasks tackled included:

*Writing to over 8,100 residents that were identified as vulnerable

*Setting up specific Covid inbox, monitored by the housing team, to ensure that people received support during this crisis.

*The majority of calls and emails to the council were from residents who required assistance with shopping and collection of medication.

“The council acted as a link between those needing help and those wanting to help.

However, officers warn that they will need to keep a close eye on income and expenditure. Car parking income, for instance, has dropped by 90 per cent and the council expect the management fee its get from the leisure centre operator will be reduced,

“It is hard at this point to say the full cost of these, as the length of the lockdown is unclear,” says the report. “In relation to Council Tax and Business Rates, it is again too early to say how these will be impacted but they are expected to be significantly reduced”.