City Lib Dems are pushing for 80% of new homes at the council-owned Mill Road depot site to be "affordable" and are also keen to pioneer a new living rent focused on tenants' income, not the market.
Housing Spokesperson Cllr Rod Cantrill is urging a bold approach in order to tackle Cambridge's chronic housing crisis.
That means doubling the normal 40% affordable homes target and setting rents at a third of tenants' income - an innovative model not yet adopted outside London.
Rod told us: "If we can't be bold and pioneering on a council-owned site like the Mill Road depot, where can we?
"The housing market in Cambridge is broken and requires huge ambition and guts to fix it. This is a critical test for the Labour-run Council."
The Lib Dems' living rent scheme would see rent determined based on one third of the tenants' income, making it more affordable for low income workers to live in the city.
In September 2016, nine new council houses were completed on Hawkins Road, replacing a set of garages with desperately needed new homes. Initially there were some objections to the plans, but I have spoken to many affected residents who understand the extent of the housing crisis and who were glad to support the project.
Sadly, one year later and to the considerable frustration of the community, these houses continue to sit empty. Failures in project management mean that the properties remain without electricity and, in turn, more people suffer due to the Cambridge housing crisis.
These houses are just one part of the ‘146 Programme’, a project to build 146 homes across the city and awarded to the developers at Keepmoat. The management of this contract has clearly failed, with local Cllr Kevin Price taking to Cambridge News to voice his frustrations. Cllr Price blames Keepmoat for the delays and failures (and seeks to end their contract). As the Exec Councillor for Housing, this is the the crudest form of contract management available to Cllr Price and fails to address the project management weaknesses of the Council that led to these delays in the first place.
I have raised this issue with Rod Cantrill, the local Housing Spokes for the Lib Dems, who has repeatedly challenged the Council Exec for faster delivery of homes. He recently commented that Hawkins Road is another “illustration of the shameful position the council has got itself into. When there are over 2500 households on the councils waiting list, it can’t even deliver 9 new homes for 9 of those households.”
Nine new homes are not going to solve the Cambridge crisis, but they are going to solve the crisis for nine households currently unable to find security in our city. The project could also be used as an important lesson for improvement in the future. I recently congratulated Kevin Price on his appointment to Chair of the GCP Assembly, but upon reflection I would recommend that Cllr Price should take lessons from this recent failures and refocus his efforts on his existing responsibilities to deliver homes in our city.
A £193m bid to unlock an extra 5,200 new homes on and around the site of Cambridge’s Sewage Works could go forward to the Government, if the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority accepts a recommendation to back it at their meeting on 27th September.
Success with the bid to the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund would enable the relocation of Anglian Water’s plant outside the city and the realisation of the full potential of the important north Cambridge site, transforming the scale of development near the new train station from the currently envisaged 2,400 new homes to 7,600.
Cllr Rod Cantrill and Cllr Tim Bick
The bid offers the prospect of realising the ambitious plan for this site set by the Liberal Democrats when in power. It comes shortly after Cambridge City Council’s Labour administration refused to do any more about it, preferring to settle for much more modest development there and fewer new homes.
Cllr Tim Bick, leader of the City Council Lib Dems, said: “The comprehensive redevelopment of this site for both jobs and housing is really positive for the Cambridge area. By any standards 7,600 new homes, over 3,000 of which should be affordable, can make a vital contribution to our serious shortage of housing. It is a brownfield site, close to public transport and employment: ideal to accommodate Cambridge’s growth. To respond to the local housing crisis, it is essential to be imaginative and bold – and work for the long term. It was tragic that Labour were unwilling to work for this – but we’re pleased it has been rescued by others.
“Last year Labour threw in the towel and just left it to others. It is great that South Cambridgeshire District Council and Anglian Water had the same ambition to keep this alive that the Lib Dems had in setting the ambition in the first place.”
Cllr Rod Cantrill, Lib Dem runner-up in the Mayoral election earlier this year and a member of the Combined Authority Scrutiny Committee said: “The next stage with this bid will be a test for the Mayor and Combined Authority. They commissioned an independent evaluation of it alongside two others, one in Huntingdon and the other at Wisbech – and the Cambridge bid came out on top. So will they follow the evidence – or will they now play politics? I’m assuming that the city’s Labour council leader has come round and will now be supporting it. It remains to be seen what the others will do. We will be watching very closely.”