10:20 Tuesday 18th December 2012
Andy Harper Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY HARPER: Joining us is the Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Ray Manning. .. There are specific issues which we can talk about, but let’s talk first of all about housing. The sale of council houses, the housing associations, and of course the underlying concern about homelessness as well, because so many people want to live in this part of the world. Do you think you’ve got your policy as a council right?
RAY MANNING: I think we’re trying to walk the middle line between the two, because you could have a complete free for all, and build enormous quantities of housing. One of the easier advantages is that houses sell readily round here. When I go to some of the other leaders from other districts, they talk about the problems and getting developers to redevelop a brown field site. We don’t actually have that problem. We’re always looking to where can we put housing to cause the least problem, rather than a case of trying to develop anywhere. So life’s easier that way, but it’s the balance of trying to preserve South Cambs as being the best place in the country to live. Everybody wants to live here. And that’s the balance, trying to give the houses to balance the number of jobs. And we’re trying to balance the two. We’re not trying to create more jobs than houses, or more houses than jobs. We’re trying to balance the two.
ANDY HARPER: You say houses sell very easily here, but are the right people buying them, and are the houses there for the people who can’t afford to buy? Because that’s one of the big concerns. Indigenous Cambridgeshire, South Cambridgeshire people, find that they can’t afford houses, and yet people can come from outside , not just outside this region in the country but outside this part of the world. So whilst they sell easily, are the right people getting them?
RAY MANNING: Well that’s always the problem, isn’t it? You need what they call key worker housing. That’s coming in the Cambridge North West near Girton. There’s a big proportion there is being held back for key worker housing. And yes, that’s the trick. We’ve got to provide affordable housing, but we also say we’ve got to provide housing that is affordable. So we’re hoping to work with the developers at Northstowe, and try and make sure that a big proportion of that is actually affordable by and for local people.
ANDY HARPER: There have been many many discussions and worse I think it’s fair to say about the transfer of council housing to housing associations, something which I know has exercised you and your fellow councillors. Has the situation levelled out now? Are tenants happier than perhaps they once were?
RAY MANNING: I would hope so. We thought the best way forward was to transfer housing. We’ve been incredibly lucky really, because we had to borrow £205 million to buy back our council houses from the Government, basically. Because of low interest rates, we were OK. If interest rates had been high at the time, we would have been in a real problem. Because of the interest rate so low, we’ve been able to borrow at a very good rate, and this has enabled us now to start rebuilding council houses. So we’re actually going to start providing council houses.
ANDY HARPER: That you will continue to run?
RAY MANNING: Oh yes.
ANDY HARPER: You see it’s a funny old thing, isn’t it? People often have a go at their councils, and yet people who are tenants of councils want to stay that way, don’t they? They have a lot of affection, despite what they might think about other things.
RAY MANNING: Well yes. We went to a ballot on it, and whilst the result surprised us, to say that 75% of the tenants wanted to stay with the Council means we must be doing something right. Because a lot of other districts in fact did vote to change. But the answer as I say is to take advantage of the fact that you can borrow very cheaply at the moment, and build more council houses. And that’s what we’ve embarked on doing.
ANDY HARPER: Is one of the problems that you face that you risk becoming enveloped by Cambridge? Because as Cambridge pushes its boundaries, and you’ve only got to drive around the city to see how things are changing before your very eyes, not necessarily for the better a lot of us might think, but is that an issue that you face, that Cambridge encroaches almost, and the outskirts of Cambridge, the city boundaries, are now a part of South Cambridgeshire?
RAY MANNING: Yes it is. It’s something that we’ve got to look at. We did have actually what we call a boundary review going on with ourselves and Cambridge City. And we were trying to choose boundaries that everybody could clearly see, like the M11, or the A14, or places like this, so that everybody could say, that side is South Cambs, that side is Cambridge City. Because some of the boundaries are, well, I think the community centre car park is in South Cambs, and the building is in the City. So yes, that is a real .. we do not want to see Cambridge, nor does Cambridge actually, Cambridge City don’t want to take over our villages. So it’s a trick is to make sure that people know whether they’re living in Great Shelford or in Cambridge.
ANDY HARPER: And that is the danger, isn’t it? I think about Harston and Trumpington, and you just feel, well they’ve got as far as the M11. What’s next? And that is a real concern to people who are in villages in your council.
RAY MANNING: Yes well you read Victorian novels, and they’re talking about taking a pony and trap out to the village of Grantchester, which is several miles away.
ANDY HARPER: Oh that it still was.