When you ask the average Cambridge person what is required to improve our city, they are likely to reply with either the need for more affordable housing or for better transport infrastructure. The two are interlinked and interdependent.
Without affordable accommodation available in our city, people with a stake and link to Cambridge invariability make the decision that they have no choice but to move away from their family and friends and travel in from outside the city on unreliable public transport, or their own transport, due to congested roads.
With around 2,500 people on the Council’s housing needs register, if Cambridge is serious about achieving inclusive growth, where the riches of the city are shared by all who make it so special, not just an elite few, then we have to be equally serious in ensuring workers and residents on low to middling incomes feel they can call Cambridge their home.
To do that requires determination and a strong political will to withstand the headwinds of opposition from the government and other vested interests who still believe ‘social housing’ to be a swear word. In their recent Green Paper, there is, once again, no desire on their part to allow councils the ability to borrow to build.
I am proud that, despite these difficulties, since Labour took control of Cambridge City Council in 2014, we’ve delivered nearly 250 new homes for council rent.
And, most significantly, our determination to hold out for a devolution deal for Cambridge which understood the strong connection between transport and affordable housing in delivering growth, led to us being awarded £70 million to build 500 new council homes over the next few years.
We are getting on with the job in building these much-needed council homes with the devolution money, with work to commence soon on the former depot site on Mill Road. We anticipate that over 110 homes on that site will be for social rent, along with a number of units for submarket rent for those not eligible for council housing, and also are progressing plans to build at least 90 new council homes on the former Ridgeons site off Cromwell Road.
As well as new sites, the Council is also getting to work in maximising the number of units for social rent on sites we already have housing on, like at Akeman Street.
Building homes are our top priority, but we also are working to increase the supply of homes in the private rental sector. In the last three years, we have helped bring over 100 empty properties back into use. And next year we will make full use of new powers to charge double Council Tax on empty homes in order to assist with tackling the housing shortage.
And we cannot – and will not – ignore the issue of rough sleeping and homelessness, which, due to damaging government policies, continues to be a stain on our city’s collective conscience.
The Council continues to help those in need together with our statutory and voluntary sector partners, some through innovative methods like our ‘housing first’ pilot of helping those chronically street homeless who have complex needs, and the Cambridge Street Aid charity, whose grants help give a helping hand to those who need support reintegrating back into society.
We will not rest until we are satisfied everyone in our city has safe, secure, affordable accommodation they can access, and it’s about time the government overcome their dogma and recognise the important role social housing has in improving our society and delivering the prosperity it relies on cities like Cambridge to achieve.