Action: To consider an update on revised reporting requirements to HM Government relating to the Homes from Infrastructure Programme.
The Partnership considered a report which provided an update on the arrangements for managing the schemes funded through the Housing for Infrastructure, (HfI) Scheme following the receipt of a letter from Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in December 2022 setting out the conditions for the release of the remaining £30 million Housing for Infrastructure grant funding. The report had been prepared by Lorna Baxter, the Director of Finance for Oxfordshire County Council in the capacity of Section 151 Officer of the Accountable Body for the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal who presented it to the meeting.
The Partnership’s attention was drawn to para 3.1 which set out the terms and conditions of the agreement including:
· arrangements for the use of re-cycled funding
· changes to housing delivery profile and spend delivery in quarterly instalments up 2025.
· No additional HM Government funding would be available beyond the 2024/2025 financial year and local authorities would need to cover expenditure beyond that date or reconsider which projects to prioritise if necessary.
· As part of the quarterly monitoring, Oxfordshire authorities to provide an update on Local Plan progress and housing information.
· Discussions and dialogue had taken place with officers from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Homes England and it was expected that subject to the agreement of the reporting arrangements it would be possible to submit a return at the end of March 2023.
In the discussion that followed, Councillor Susan Brown stressed the importance of not moving away from the principle of trust established as part of the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal that decisions about spend be made collectively by the Partnership with all councils having equal input. It was acknowledged that under the terms of the agreement, there was a separate responsibility for the Oxfordshire County Council Section 151 officer. Councillor Liz Leffman responded that there would continue to be regular contact and liaison between officers from County Council and district/city colleagues and addition reporting and discussion via the Infrastructure Advisory Group as there was a joint responsibility to take the HfI programme forward. Oxfordshire County Council was formally responsible for the programme as the accountable body and it was important to be cognizant that funding would not be available beyond the 2024/2025 financial year. Therefore, there were constraints that had to be worked within.
Caroline Green, Chief Executive of Oxford City Council drew the Partnership’s attention to the recognition with the report that the Partnership’s existing Terms of Reference and Memorandum of Understanding would require updating in light of the new arrangements. These amendments would need to be agreed by the Partnership itself, but also each individual local authority and as part of this work Chief Executives would be looking to formulate a form of words which encapsulated the points raised by Councllor Brown. Yvonne Rees, Chief Executive of Cherwell echoed these remarks and reassured the Partnership that this matter would be looked at closely to ensure the revised Terms of Reference and Memorandum of Understanding delivered both against the expectations of the agreement with HM Government, but also held true to the existing partnership work approach.
Councillor Bethia Thomas commented that she welcomed the report and looked forward to the discussions between officers from the councils, recognising the County Council’s formal responsibilities.
Catherine Turner, as the representative of Homes England on the Partnership stated that she welcomed the recommendations which provided clarity. Homes England would alongside colleagues at DLUHC, Oxfordshire County Council and its partners to finalise the detail of the arrangements. It was important not to lose momentum in the delivery of the HfI programme and to move with as much pace as possible. Councillor Leffman thanked Catherine Turner for her assistance in progressing the proposed arrangements and highlighted that the purpose of the infrastructure schemes comprised within the HfI programme was ultimately to deliver housing including affordable housing.
Councillor Andy Graham also emphasised the need for all the partners to move forward in the delivery of the programme as part of a trusting relationship. He also asked that officers in developing the programme set out a timeline as to date only a limited timeline had been set out in his opinion.
The Chair commented that the delivery of housing at market rates accelerated through the HfI programme was also necessary to deliver affordable housing.
RESOLVED: That the Future Oxfordshire Partnership
1. Request that the Chief Executive of Oxfordshire County Council write to DLUHC to formally accept the terms of the letter from DHLUC to Oxfordshire Leaders and OCC Chief Executive dated 5th December 2022.
2. Agree that in accepting the terms of the letter referred to in Recommendation 1, Oxfordshire County Council will, as accountable body and in consultation with the relevant District or City Council regarding the impact on accelerated housing numbers, take responsibility for decisions necessary to manage the programme in accordance with the updated conditions set out by DLUHC.
3. Note that it will be necessary to agree revised Terms of Reference and Memorandum of Understanding to reflect the change in responsibility as set out in recommendation 2, and ask officers to bring these forward as soon as possible, recognising these will only take effect following approval by each local authority.