I was extremely impressed to receive both a phone call AND an e-mail from the "Incentives Team" at CLG over the last couple of days offering UKR a face-to-face briefing on the New Homes Bonus (further to the publication of the New Homes Bonus consultation).
I think this is a pretty exemplary level of responsiveness from a government department, actually, and I'm not - uh - exactly used to it. And I shall be saying so to anyone who will listen. Long may this level of proactive engagement continue. Dr Evans and I have arranged to go in there tomorrow to receive said briefing and I will, naturally, keep you posted.
Whilst we ponder our questions on the specific incentives scheme, I was thrilled to learn from EG and other sources that Oxford City Council (that well known progressive bunch of peeps), in its capacity as a landowner, is getting on with things. It has recently launched an exciting initiative for the selection of a joint venture co-investment partner to enable it to deliver its vision for the "Land at Barton".
This is a significant housing opportunity: the site is some 90 acres and is the single biggest opportunity for housing development within Oxford and "is currently safeguarded in the Oxford Local Plan (2005)" (does one sense a pragmatic approach to open source planning in play here?).
The majority of the site is owned by the council - which is a key fact of course - and has capacity for "up to" 1,000 (very much needed) homes with "ancillary commercial, social and community benefits". Now 1,000 New Homes Bonuses would be something a little more than a hill of beans, of course, and we look forward to seeing how the sums play out over time.
It won't be for the faint-hearted this one: it is a pretty large infrastructure-led project which requires significant upfront funding (about £25m) before returns can be achieved through the sale of serviced land to deliver houses. But - and this is a very significant but - the long term partnership on offer with Oxford City Council must be well worth the long haul. Must be worth its weight in platinum actually.
The (inherently stable) council (with an experienced and smart officer cohort) has an ambitious vision for the land at Barton and is seeking to establish a partnership which is flexible, to enable it to potentially inject additional funding, possibly through using its Prudential Borrowing powers (on offer up front).
Naturally, the city council will look to reserve the right to build its own social housing on the site if desired, but this is one monster of an offer for the right partner, one who is willing to look at things creatively and in real partnership. In addition, the council may look to recycle its future land receipts to increase the level of affordable housing provision and would want the ability for the joint venture vehicle to enable other stakeholders to participate as co-investors.
This is a very exciting long term project and I wish Oxford City Council every success in selecting the right partner. And I look forward to getting updates on progress. A real partnership on offer here, in these challenging times. A joy to see.