The Northstowe Poker Game And The Missing Millions

poker_hand17:23 Monday 18th March 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: South Cambridgeshire District Council is set to agree the budget for the first phase of the new Northstowe town with the developers, but at many millions less than was first suggested. Developers Gallagher Estates’ latest offer for infrastructure such as transport and schools now stands at £30 million. That’s less than half the original amount. It will be voted on at a Council meeting tomorrow. So where have the missing millions gone? And what will it mean for the new town? Tim Wotherspoon is Cabinet member for Northstowe, and a councillor for Cottenham. Tim joins us now. Hello Tim.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Good evening. Yes.
CHRIS MANN: So, how did we get from sixty five million to thirty?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Well that of course, the sixty five million, was the list of suggested requests from the developer in October. And I know that it’s been reported that we’re losing thirty million pounds. But in fact we are gaining thirty million pounds in the sense that that is a significant step up from the position that Gallagher was in only a few weeks ago in fact, when they were only offering twenty million.
CHRIS MANN: Sounds like a poker game to me.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Absolutely. Yes. Well that’s what it’s like.
CHRIS MANN: Sorry, are you playing with the futures of the people of Northstowe?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: The legal officer at South Cambridgeshire District Council will be very cross with me for using a gaming analogy by the way, because of course this isn’t a negotiation. It’s a situation where in order to make a planning proposal acceptable, you have to agree a planning application where there are certain requirements for infrastructure that make the development acceptable in planning terms.
CHRIS MANN: We understand that. I’ll repeat the question Tim. Were you gambling with the futures of the people of Northstowe?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: No. certainly not. And I hoped I was answering that in the wording that I used just there.
CHRIS MANN: So, what is going to be paid for? Will there still be a primary school, a secondary school, will there be libraries and recreational areas and so on?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Oh well there’ll certainly be recreation areas. And of course not only will there be a primary school out of phase one, but we’ve listened to a lot of concerns that people have made to us about making sure that we get secondary provision as early as possible for the first phase. And it’s very unusual for secondary provision to be provided as part of a development which, at least in the first phase, is only 1,500 houses. But we are certainly not shifting from our expectation that the secondary school will be on line from the year four of occupation of the first phase.
CHRIS MANN: You may have heard, we were talking earlier on with the boss of AstraZeneca and with Andrew Sinclair, and also we heard from the Business Secretary Vince Cable, that the pressure really is on in Cambridgeshire for new homes, for infrastructure and so on.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: You’re absolutely right.
CHRIS MANN: And what we’ve talked about on this programme recently, is the need for affordable housing. Now the percentage as I understand it, from what I’ve seen in the figures, at Northstowe for the first phase was supposed to be about 40%. But it’s now down to 20%. Why is that?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Yes. The policy requirement of course is 40%, subject to viability. And affordable housing as you know is housing that is available for rent from the Council, or a housing association, or intermediate housing, that is to say, part rent and part owned, or shared equity. So that’s one element of the housing offer at Northstowe. Of course the other element is housing for people to purchase. And the fact that we have such a constrained market in housing is one of the reasons why the need to get started on Northstowe is so urgent.
CHRIS MANN: Does that mean that Northstowe is only for rich people?
TIM WQTHERSPOON: No not at all. There will be ..
CHRIS MANN: Well if you don’t have the affordable housing, surely that’s what’s going to happen.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: The intention of course is to make housing available that’s affordable for everyone. So the term affordable housing is a very technical one, as you know, and it has quite limited meaning. The fact that a house is not labelled “affordable housing” doesn’t mean to say that people can’t afford to buy it.
CHRIS MANN: Tim, forgive me, but some people can look at this and say, well, sixty five million reduced to thirty million. 40% affordable housing reduced to 20%. Is the dream of Northstowe being diluted here?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Not at all. No. In fact I’m delighted with the outcome. It’s very much the best deal we could hope for under the circumstances. And you do realise that thirty million is twenty thousand per house. And that’s well above average and compares very favourably to what we’ve been getting on the edge of Cambridge.
CHRIS MANN: And just one final question Tim. All of this is pointless without the infrastructure like the A14 and the rail links and so on, isn’t it?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Quite. Quite. Quite. The A14 is having some interim improvements, as you know. And the whole of Northstowe, the 10,000 houses, will go hand in hand with the major upgrade scheme which is back on the Government’s capital investment programme for roads.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Thank you for joining us and clearing all that up.