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Suffolk County Council looks to abandon its role in housing company

Proposals to build 78 new homes in Haverhill look set to progress despite Suffolk County Council's (SCC) announcement that it intends to pull out of the housebuilding company formed to manage the projects.

Housing company Barley Homes (Group) Ltd was incorporated in March 2016, with the county council having a 50per cent stake and St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils having a 25 per cent stake each.

Now, SCC's cabinet is due to meet on September 11 where councillors will be asked to approve that its 50 per cent shareholding be transferred to the two west Suffolk councils.

Richard Smith, cabinet member for finance and assets at Suffolk County Council, said: "We have agreed that it is simpler and more effective if Suffolk County Council withdraws from the company at this point and focuses on its strategic role in the broader delivery of housing across Suffolk, whilst district and borough councils lead on local schemes."

Cabinet is also being asked to progress with the current plans to sell the two SCC owned sites in Haverhill to Barley Homes.

Thetwo pieces of land are the former Westfield Primary School site in Manor Road (for which a planning application for 38 housing units is anticipated to be submitted some time this month) and the School Lane land once occupied by Castle Hill Middle School.

A development brief for 25 housing units is currently being worked on for this project.

The Barley Homes planning application for 14 new dwellings on the car park behind Haverhill Arts Centre is expected to be considered at the borough council's development control committee meeting in October.

Cllr Sara Mildmay-White, (Cons) west Suffolk councils' cabinet member for housing, said the change "will reduce governance, bureaucracy, overheads and duplication".

She added: "Barley Homes provides a significant opportunity to make best use of public assets and deliver the right homes to support our local communities. It also means the local West Suffolk taxpayer will see the community and financial benefits rather than the commercial sector which would have been unlikely to deliver these much needed schemes."

As part of Suffolk's move to end its relationship with the developer, the west Suffolk councils is set to pay back a £250,000 the county lent to the developer to set up.

Cllr Andrew Stringer, Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group at Suffolk County Council,was scathing about the fact thatBarley Homes had failed to build any houses since it was formed.

He said: “It is terribly ironic that in the same week we learn the Council is predicting an £8.6m overspend, we’re also told that they plan to abandon Barley Homes, a long-heralded source of income cited by this Conservative administration.

"The whole point of that project was to generate desperately-needed income whilst also building much-needed homes our county could be proud of.

"After two years, not a single house has been built, countless hours and resources have been spent, and we’re still facing a housing crisis in Suffolk.

"What exactly have they been doing all this time?

"I find it remarkable that I, as a private citizen, have managed to build more houses in the last two years in my spare time than Barley Homes has.

"We believe the future for the County Council in bringing forward sustainable housing development is to form partnerships with experienced stakeholders on a case-by-case basis, such as we recently have in Cockfield. More importantly we have the opportunity, as the third biggest landowner in Suffolk, to support and promote skilled Suffolk tradespeople and suppliers.”

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