Housing boost and Cumbrian cash among Spring Statement bright spots

With the UK Government still mired in uncertainty over the country’s immediate future, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s announcement was as low-key as predicted, with a Borderlands Growth Deal and a £3bn Affordable Homes guarantee the main highlights.

The scheme follows a previous scheme which ran from 2014 to 2018, and will see the Government guaranteeing up to £3bn of borrowing by housing associations in England.

Mark Dyason, managing director of development finance specialist, Thistle Finance, said: “The political climate may be highly febrile, but the housebuilding sector as a whole will have applauded the Spring Statement.

“The introduction of a new £3bn Affordable Homes Guarantee scheme will be music to the ears of developers, as the target of 30,000 additional affordable homes could further drive activity levels across the sector.”

Hammond hinted at the possibility of a “Deal dividend” should the Government be able to find sufficient support to leave the EU with some measure of predictability over the short and long term implications. A full three-year spending review before the summer could yet happen.

There is much uncertainty in the area of infrastructure funding, with a review announced today into infrastructure finance – the preferred scenario is to continue working with the European Investment Bank into the future, but should that prove impossible, other scenarios are being explored.

Nevertheless, £260m has been committed to the Borderlands Growth Deal, which covers Carlisle as a city, Cumbria, Northumberland, Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders. This comes in addition to the £102m recently announced for the Carlisle Southern Link Road.

The deal was floated in the 2017 Budget and includes within it four place-based projects, including Carlisle’s station gateway.

A Borderlands Partnership spokesperson said: “This funding announcement will be a real game changer for everyone who lives and works in the area. A lot of hard work has gone into getting this far.

“Now we know how much we’re getting overall, we can start planning the detail to be able to deliver a range of projects across the region, all designed to boost productivity and to achieve inclusive growth. It will improve our productivity, help us to attract younger people to live and work in the region as well as improve the quality of life for our existing residents and communities.”

There was also a grain of encouragement in further pledging of support for the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail, the development of which currently sits within the orbit of the previously announced £37bn National Productivity Investment Fund.

Bob Ward, regional senior partner at EY, said: “Given the circumstances, I was heartened to hear the Chancellor still find room to confirm the Government’s commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is so important to the continued success of the Northern economy.

Ward also described the announcement of a £260m Borderlands Growth Deal to help deliver physical and digital infrastructure as “a welcome fillip for Cumbria and Carlisle,” concluding that “despite other overarching pressures, the North was not entirely forgotten”.

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