Funding of more than £1.6 million for new affordable homes in Peterborough has been approved.
The money was committed on Monday by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority which overall is spending £6.8 million to help deliver 178 affordable rent and shared ownership homes.
Three projects were approved by the housing and communities committee, including £1,687,500 to enable delivery of 45 new affordable homes in Bretton Court.
Medesham Homes - a joint housing venture between Peterborough City Council and housing association Cross Keys Homes - applied for the funds to convert units that were originally intended to be market units into affordable rent.
An earlier application by Medesham to convert the former offices into 43 homes was rejected by the council’s planning committee due to a lack of parking spaces.
However, last year Medesham said it was buying additional commercial units to try and alleviate that concern.
The housing and communities committee on Monday did not approve the scheme unanimously, with deputy leader of Cambridge City Council Cllr Mike Sergeant voting against, and the leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council Cllr Bridget Smith abstaining, both raising concerns over the quality of the homes.
Cllr Sergeant said: “I’m not comfortable about this application at all really.”
He raised concerns over the size of some of the flats and conditions produced by converting an office block.
He said: “I think we need to say to people we are building high quality homes, not just converting office blocks because that gets the numbers.”
Cllr Smith said she was against the principle of converting office blocks into housing and said the Local Government Association is lobbying against office conversions.
“This is substandard housing, this is currently office space. There are two arguments: it reduces the amount of office space and puts people in housing that was never intended to be housing,” she said. “Our residents deserve better quality housing.”
The combined authority’s director of housing and development, Roger Thompson, said the flats would be built to housing regulations, and said it can be converted “as compared to a new-build, at relative speed”.
“There was some comment about the fact that it’s a valuable office building and employment space. In the nicest possible way, if you go and look at this building it is not fit for purpose. It’s heavily dilapidated, it has asbestos in it.
“The works that have been proposed would strip this out and bring the building into a modern use, and that’s the reason it’s been brought to committee – there’s a need and the building offers an opportunity to address that need in an appropriate way, we believe,” he said.
Housing programme manager at the combined authority, Azma Ahmad-Pearce, said: “They are not going to be substandard,” and added, “I would expect superb standards throughout.”
Cllr Smith said the flats were “small” and that organisations such as the Local Government Association and London councils have raised concerns that by converting office blocks into housing “we are building tomorrow’s slums”.
“If the building is that bad knock the whole lot down and let’s do a really high quality development that Peterborough is proud of and which Peterborough residents deserve,” she said.
Cllr Sergeant said he “couldn’t square” how the building was suitable for converting into housing and not refurbishing for office use.
Chair of the committee and leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, Cllr Graham Bull, said: “Building new isn’t an option. It’s either we do this or we don’t do this.”
He added: “We are confronted with the choice here rather than something different”.
The scheme was approved by a majority.
A Peterborough City Council spokesperson said: “We are pleased this application for funding has been approved by the combined authority. This development will see former derelict offices converted to high quality affordable homes, meeting modern building standards.
“New affordable homes are much needed in Peterborough. This scheme will provide the most vulnerable families in our city with stability and a front door of their own - at a rental price they can afford.
“At a time when homelessness is rising nationally, it is more important than ever that we provide homes that people can afford to live in.”
The committee also approved £600,000 for 15 affordable rent homes at 94 Great Whyte, Ramsey.
Planning permission for 32 homes on the site was granted in June last year, and Platform Housing Group has applied for £600,000 from the combined authority to acquire 15 homes for affordable rent.
The committee also approved £4,542,000 for Funding affordable Homes for 118 affordable units in Wisbech Road, March.
The combined authority report says: “This is a private windfall site, where the homes would have been mostly for outright sale.”
Of the 118, 98 will be affordable rents homes and 20 shared ownership homes.
Ms Ahmad-Pearce, said “I believe the Fens are crying out for this.”
The schemes are part of a county-wide affordable housing scheme which was part of the 2017 devolution deal which gave the mayoral body £170 million to provide 2,500 affordable homes.
Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporting Service