It is clear that current consensus to house build is not working; we are still neither building the number of homes we need, nor doing so in a sustainable way.
Backed by the Combined Authority Board, I have always been determined to find new and innovative ways to tackle this problem. That is why, rather than just give all the money away as grant as we were expected to, the Board approved a £40m Revolving fund out of the £100m Affordable Housing Programme the Government asked us to implement. This approach carries on delivering affordable homes in perpetuity with ever improving value for taxpayer money. The Government backed this approach, and have confirmed to me recently their willingness to look at innovative solutions and alternative methods of delivery.
Since then, the Government have not made it easy for us to deliver on their Programme. There was the 7 month delay they created at the outset, which meant 142 homes could not be funded and our entire pipeline of projects was lost. There were repeated queries and clarifications, taking up officer time that could have been used on delivering homes. Finally, there has been the delay on releasing the final years’ funding and dispute over the end date.
I am glad therefore that as a result of our discussions, the Government has now confirmed the March 2022 end date for their housing programme, and the release of further funds to get as many affordable homes as possible started by then.
However, given the impact of Covid-19, there has been an ever-tightening grip on how they want their money spent. They have now indicated that it must all be disbursed by 2022, including funds currently allocated to the Revolving Fund.
It has become clear to me that in light of the toughening financial situation, MHCLG do not see their current programme as a chance to try alternative solutions, and are continuing with a short term focus on arbitrary targets and deadlines.
I know the Combined Authority Board, and the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, want us to do so something different, something better than current policy; just giving money away to housing associations will never be good value for money. It was also always the case that the innovations we’ve introduced in the last 4 years could only ever be proofs of concept in light of the scale of the problem we are trying to address.
To that end, I will ask the Combined Authority Board to agree to the steps necessary to complete this MHCLG Affordable Housing Programme, and to mandate me to continue the development of a housing delivery plan that works for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. One based on innovative solutions, encouraging affordable ownership rather than expensive rents, and to a scale that will have a chance of building the homes we need in a sustainable way. I look forward to discussing this agenda with Government as we emerge from the pandemic.