17:42 Wednesday 11th December 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Cambridge City’s ruling LibDems have proposed a major commitment to ease the city’s housing shortage. It’s a new way of financing an investment of £286 million over 30 years to build up to 2,000 new council homes. Cllr Catherine Smart haas the housing portfolio. She joined me earlier.
CATHERINE SMART: We think we ought to be building more houses ourselves, that is city homes, the City Council, adding to our stock something up to about 2,000.
CHRIS MANN: That’s a huge enterprise. Over what sort of period of time?
CATHERINE SMART: I’m not entirely sure. It will depend on to what extent sites come forward, but as soon as possible. You’ll remember that a couple of years ago the way in which housing was funded, council housing was funded, was changed, and we took charge of our own money. We didn’t have to any longer send £11 million a year off to Whitehall, which we did under the Labour Government. We were able to keep that but ..
CHRIS MANN: This is an acknowledgement that Cambridge has a real problem in terms of housing. There aren’t enough. It’s as simple as that.
CATHERINE SMART: It’s as simple as that. We haven’t enough housing per se. And we haven’t enough housing for people who need social rented. And this is the social rented bit that we’re actually dealing with at this particular point, or with this particular measure.
CHRIS MANN: The lower end of the market, low rents. Where would you put them?
CATHERINE SMART: Well we’ve got the Local Plan of course, which is also going through. And there are quite a .. there are a number of sites that identified, and South Cambridgeshire has also identified a number of sites. And on all those sites both we and South Cambridgeshire want to have 40% affordable housing. And we’re going to be in the market for building that 40%. Not in addition to the Local Plan. It’s how we would finance a part of the affordable housing that is identified as necessary in the Local Plan. It’s alongside the Local Plan.
CHRIS MANN: So how much difference would it make to the current problem do you think? Is it going to solve it?
CATHERINE SMART: It’ll help. Yes. Absolutely. No it won’t solve it. More will need to be done. But this is our bit.
CHRIS MANN: This is not Green Belt?
CATHERINE SMART: No no. No no. As I said, it’s not .. well, there are a couple of little bits of the Green Belt that have been identified in the Local Plan. If the Inspector agrees with us then those will be built on. But it is not in addition to the Local Plan , it is alongside and saying how we would provide, how we would be able to provide for the affordable housing part that is identified in the Local Plan.
CHRIS MANN: At the same time as you’re saying you need to build this urgently, you and South Cambs have turned down the developers Gallaghers, who are in partnership with Cambridge United to try and put in a community stadium and new houses there. What’s the difference between the two things?
CATHERINE SMART: The Local Plan wants to retain Cambridge as a compact city. Because it’s one of the important things about Cambridge, that it is that kind of a place where people rub up against one another. People believe that it is part of what started the Cambridge Phenomenon, and we want to hang on to that. So we want to be a compact city, and yet at the same time we need to identify places where we can actually build, because we need the houses as well. It’s not an easy balance, but we think the Local Plan has got the balance right. We’ll see what the Inspector says.
CHRIS MANN: But still you have Gallaghers who want to help you. They want to build houses too, some of them affordable houses. And they want to provide a community stadium. So why aren’t the Council welcoming them with open arms?
CATHERINE SMART: Because they’re not taking any notice of our Local Plan. And they’re trying to push out the boundaries, and that is not what we’ve identified as being appropriate in the Local Plan.
CHRIS MANN: What will be the effect on the housing market do you think in Cambridge of your 2,000 new council houses?
CATHERINE SMART: On the housing market?
CHRIS MANN: Yes. On the waiting lists, on rentals and so on. What do you think will happen?
CATHERINE SMART: Well hopefully it will at least stabilise it if .. well hopefully we’d hope it to bring it down, so that it’s in balance. But it’s over a certain period, so we’ll have to wait and see.
CHRIS MANN: When do we see the first of these houses Catherine?
CATHERINE SMART: Well it’s a continuation of a programme that we’ve already started.
CHRIS MANN: Catherine Smart there, who is the housing portfolio holder at Cambridge City Council.