Achieving ‘success’ with homelessness strategy and solar panels in Peterborough

A rough sleeper in Peterborough
A rough sleeper in Peterborough
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Not so long ago the services we provided for residents were largely paid for by the Government or by people like you as council tax, writes leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr John Holdich in his weekly column.

Times have changed – our main Government grant now makes up just 2.47 per cent of our total budget.

Nowadays almost a fifth of our budget – £72 million to be exact – is money generated by the council, to fund the vital services that we provide for an ever expanding population.

We do this by, for example, selling the energy produced from our energy waste plant, renting out our buildings and sharing expert teams such as trading standards and 
planning with other councils.

On Monday, cabinet members will be discussing a scheme that has generated the council a hefty profit and offered some of our residents free energy.

Almost five years ago we partnered with Empower Community Management LLP to deliver solar panels on residential properties across the city and the UK, investing £23 million capital funding in the process.

It’s been a real success story for the council, with thousands of residents benefitting from the installation of solar panels at no cost to themselves and free energy. Importantly, it’s also generated a hefty return on our investment – £2.6 million in the past four years. This is money we have been able to use to provide valuable front-line services for residents at a time when Government funding has been drastically reduced and demand for services has grown rapidly.

The loan was only ever short term – that’s the reason we have received such a good rate of return on it – and we are now close to passing our investment in this scheme to a company that will repay our loan and continue to manage the solar panels to the benefit of those already signed up.

Without income generating projects such as this, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services that you and thousands of other residents rely upon.

We’ve got plenty more ideas too, which I will tell you about as soon as I am able.

Providing enough homes for everyone in our city is one of our biggest priorities, but it is also one of our biggest challenges due to the unprecedented spike in demand in recent years.

It’s fair to say our homeless strategy is working – we no longer have to house homeless families out of the area and the number of families in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73 this month. 
Despite the 56 per cent rise in homeless applications, the number of families living in temporary accommodation has been kept steady at roughly 385 a month.

This has been achieved by working with hundreds of families at risk of homelessness – with the aim of keeping them in their own homes, by building 29 homes together with Medesham Homes, by buying 51 homes on the open market and by working with landlords to secure an additional 48 homes.

At Monday’s cabinet meeting councillors will be discussing setting up something called a Housing Revenue Account which, put simply, will allow us to build our own homes.

These homes could be used for both temporary and long-term accommodation and would be managed and operated by the city council, in a similar way in which council homes used to be operated in the 60s and 70s. They would complement the new homes already being built for residents by the council’s long-term partner, Cross Keys Homes, and other social housing providers.

Establishing a HRA could generate hundreds of additional homes in the city in the coming years.

Add to this the 280 affordable homes which are set to be built in Peterborough over the next year, with more planned for future years, and additional investment secured from the Combined Authority and Homes England for 321 new homes, we should be getting close to meeting the housing needs of the city’s growing population.

At the weekend I attended a farewell event for the Earth artwork created by Luke Jerram at the cathedral. It really was a fascinating spectacle and I feel lucky to have had the chance to see it in all its glory.

I am told that 32,000 people visited the cathedral for the month it was on display, which is fantastic. Many of those people might have visited especially to see it and then spent time and money elsewhere in our city, which will have benefited many local businesses.

We’re also seeing more and more people visit the city to attend some of the fantastic shows being offered by our theatres –the Key and The Cresset which have long been entertaining packed audiences, and more recently the New Theatre. All three have some fantastic shows lined up between now and Christmas.