Government holding back on affordable housing cash to combined authority - Mayor Palmer confident of ‘robust delivery plan ahead’
PUBLISHED: 09:06 07 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:06 07 August 2020
The government has not handed over last year’s funding for affordable housing in Cambridgeshire, the Combined Authority has said.
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority board heard an update on Wednesday (August 5) on a dispute between the authority and the government over the delivery of its affordable housing programme.
The board heard that a decision on nearly half the funding owed to the authority will be taken in September, following concerns over the progress it has made on delivering affordable homes.
As part of the devolution deal the Combined Authority received a commitment of £100million to deliver 2,000 affordable homes across the county – but outside of Cambridge, because the city has a separate £70million deal for 500 affordable homes.
In a letter from the minister for regional growth and local government, Simon Clarke MP, sent in July and revealed by the Ely Standard, the government said it has a “differing view on the total additional starts on site delivered to date” and said “further evidence of progress would be required before the department could make further funding available”.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service has asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) to clarify its position on progress made, and how many additional starts it believes have been made, and to clarify how that differs from the Combined Authority’s figures. But a spokesperson said the department does not comment on leaks.
The leader of Cambridge City Council, Labour’s Lewis Herbert, asked at the board meeting how much in total is being “withheld” by the government in funding for the programme.
The Combined Authority’s head of finance, Jon Alsop, responded: “There is £15million which we haven’t received yet from 2019/20, and the amount that is due to come from MHCLG for this area in 2020/2021 is £30million. So at the moment we are waiting for a total of £45million from the £100million fund.”
A Combined Authority spokesperson said after the meeting that the £30million for 2020/21 is expected between September 2020 and March 2021.
A council report says: “The payment of the £100million Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Housing Capital grant due in 2019/20 has been deferred pending a further review in September 2020 in order for MHCLG to be satisfied that sufficient progress has been made with the £100million housing programme delivery at that time.
“It is anticipated that this will now be received in 2020/21, in addition to the 2020/21 allocation.”
The mayor, Conservative James Palmer, told the board meeting “the dispute seems to revolve around the timeline” for the programme.
He said the Combined Authority has been working under the impression that the delivery of the 2,000 home programme should be March 2022, whereas the government has, he said, stated it is expecting a delivery timeline ending in March 2021.
The mayor said the authority is three quarters of the way towards its affordable homes target.
“I’m very confident that we have a robust delivery plan ahead,” he said.
And he added the authority hopes to resolve the issue at a meeting with MHCLG arranged for September.
Cllr Herbert asked for clarification if the dispute was related to the use of £40million of the authority’s £100million.
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, which is given out in grants to housing associations, runs out.
The mayor said: “I don’t believe that there is anything, the conjecture I believe is over the end date of 2021 or the date that we have worked to from day one which is March 2022.”
The leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Conservative Anna Bailey, said it was “self-evident” that the delivery timeline goes beyond March 2021 based on the funding arrangements.
“The drawdown of the final tranche of funds is not available until the year 2021, which would mean that it would inevitably be 2021/22,” she said.
The Combined Authority board also decided to extend the repayment dates and reduce interest payments on its loans from the £40million affordable housing rolling fund, owing to the disruption caused by the pandemic.
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