Calls for government to tackle ‘immoral’ housing crisis in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire

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Local and national government have been called on to put aside their differences to tackle the “immoral” housing crisis in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

In an impassioned address, James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, implored the authority’s board members to “put aside their antagonism” and approve a new housing strategy which aims to make more homes available for people who cannot afford to live in expensive areas in Cambridgeshire.

Mayor James Palmer

Mayor James Palmer

Mr Palmer said it was possible to build and sell homes for £100,000 which, he said, would allow young people and people on lower incomes to afford to buy a home.

But there was concern that the plans were being rushed through without proper thought for how best to address the need in the county.

Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said there was too much focus on simply delivering houses quickly, rather than delivering them in areas they were really needed.

“What you are approving is a first-come first-serve approach that doesn’t look at need,” she said.

“In places like South Cambridgeshire the situation is more complicated.

“This is about hitting a target as quickly as possible without looking at where houses will benefit those who are really struggling.”

Cllr Smith questioned whether funding from the Government for affordable housing was being spent “in line with the original devolution deal”, and said she feared the combined authority could be “in real trouble” if it was not.

She also slammed the “poorly written” report which, she said, was too vague and didn’t give enough detail.

Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council also voiced his concerns with the strategy.

Cllr Herbert said he was worried the combined authority could end up with “egg on its face” if houses were not delivered by 2022.

He said housing associations had lost faith in the combined authority, and said they needed to be a part of tackling the housing crisis in the county.

Mr Palmer agreed that housing associations were “part of the plan”, but said the combined authority needed to be “more original” in its approach.

He said it was “dishonest” to say houses could not be built more quickly, and said national government needed to “pull their heads out of the sand” over the Brexit deal and focus on the housing crisis.

“This is a challenge to national government,” said Mr Palmer.

“They have got to, whatever party they’re in, pull their heads out of the sand on the Brexit deal and look at this situation. If we do not, we will be having these conversations in 15 or 20 years’ time.

“It is absolutely immoral people can’t afford to buy houses. You can build houses for 100 grand.

“I believe this paper lifts the opportunities for young people to take part in this incredible economy. If we throw it out because housing associations don’t like it, that is wrong.”

The strategy includes schemes like community land trusts, discounted market homes priced at £100,000 at first sale and mechanisms like land value capture.

The board approved the strategy housing report.

Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporting Service