Suffolk County Council abandon stake in housebuilding company after failing to build any new homes

Green councillor Andrew Stringer pointed out he had built more houses in his part-time job than Barl

Green councillor Andrew Stringer pointed out he had built more houses in his part-time job than Barley Homes. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council is set to pull out of a housing development company it co-founded three years ago – before it built any homes or secured any planning permissions.

Barley Homes was set up in late 2015 with the county owning 50% of the company and St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath owning the other 50% between them.

Its aim was to develop vacant land owned by local authorities in west Suffolk – with three sites in Haverhill and one in Mildenhall.

However none have yet secured planning permission and now the county’s cabinet is to be asked next week to transfer its share of the company to the two other partners who are due to join together as West Suffolk Council next May.

Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance Richard Smith said: “We have a successful record of working closely with West Suffolk Councils to deliver major projects that bring economic benefit to local residents and businesses.

“Through the process of setting up Barley Homes and progressing the work on sites in West Suffolk, we have learned a lot about the respective roles and responsibilities of different tiers of local government involved in property development.

“Together, 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.”

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Opposition councillors poured scorn on the proposal.

Labour deputy leader Peter Gardiner said; “The council were warned from the outset that this venture was going to fail, but they refused to listen.

“Time and again opposition members told the council they needed expert advice and time and again we were ignored. Finally sense has been seen and although the initial financial outlay should be recovered the cost of county council employees time will never be recovered.”

Andrew Stringer, Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group 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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