Cambridge City Council has responded to a Government devolution plan saying that, while keen for further discussions, it cannot support the current three county devolution proposals tabled in the last fortnight for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.
The government proposals would see the seven Cambridgeshire and Peterborough councils and Local Enterprise Partnership join a massive 23 council Combined Authority, with a powerful new regional mayor.
On affordable housing, which is the key priority for Cambridge City Council, the government has also rejected the City Council’s one ‘ask’ which was for funding to replace to 2020 one for one all Cambridge council homes being lost due to enforced Treasury housing sales and Right to Buy.
The government gave Cambridgeshire councils until yesterday, ahead of next Wednesday’s budget, to consider the complex proposal and decide whether or not to sign up to a deal which has been discussed by Norfolk and Suffolk councils for months, when Cambridgeshire councils have only had a few weeks’ say.
Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “Our focus is on what is best for Cambridge residents, businesses and workers, and our clear conclusions are that the rushed government’s proposals to add Cambridgeshire councils to a Norfolk and Suffolk deal, which is nearly completed, are not the right deal for Cambridge, not the right deal for our world-leading economy, and not the right deal on retaining the affordable rent council housing that so many of our residents and their children desperately need.
“A far better approach would be a deal for Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough, as a position supported by all our local business networks, and by the rejection of the Proposal also by the Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGPLEP) and local business leaders.
“While welcoming Government’s continued support for the City Deal, and wanting to continue discussions, it is our job to stand up for Cambridge. Given the potential risks to the thriving Cambridge economy particularly on housing supply, and the sweeping powers of the regional mayor across the three counties, we are really left with no other choice but to reject the current proposal and seek a better deal, particularly in the belief that other Councils share many of our concerns and will probably agree with us when they see the final plans in a few months.”
On rental housing, earlier this week the council’s Housing Committee unanimously approved a report setting out plans for the council to open negotiations with the government in order to secure a number of new housing freedoms and flexibilities.
Cllr Kevin Price, the Council’s Executive Councillor for Housing, said: “Cambridge desperately needs more affordable rent housing not less, and we could not sign a deal which rejected our modest ask to replace Council housing being lost to big right to buy discounts and enforced Treasury property sales.
“A devolution deal that does not recognise the depth of the housing affordability crisis in Cambridge is not a deal which will benefit the majority of city’s residents, people on average wages who cannot possible afford to buy at Cambridge prices.”
“The government continues to focus solely on home ownership including shared ownership or starter homes, but the state of the housing market in Cambridge means those are not a realistic option for most except high earners.
Cllr Price added: “We set out our housing ‘ask’ in a statement which was given unanimous support from all Councillors at Housing Committee earlier this week. However, the offer from the government once again puts social rented housing at the bottom of the pile as an afterthought.
“That will do nothing except cement the spiralling house prices which are at the root of inequality in Cambridge, and threaten the future of local business prosperity too. Our fast growing economy that currently generates billions in tax receipts for Treasury, and some of that should be spent on building more rental housing locally.
A report on the devolution offer will be presented to a meeting of the Full Council on 23 March to enable all city councillors to analyse and comment on the matter.