Three on shortlist for housing zones

Paul Unger

Preston, Blackburn and Wirral are all in the running to become national housing zones, David Cameron told an audience in Manchester yesterday as part of his latest speech on the Tory's "long term economic plan."

Speaking at a joint event with the chancellor George Osborne, Cameron referred to the shortlist published yesterday of 29 areas outside London bidding for the special status, where "it will be easier and quicker to build new homes on brownfield land."

North Bank East at Peel's Wirral Waters is named as the Wirral contender.

Cllr Maureen Bateson, executive member for regeneration at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: "A housing zone bid was submitted in October by Pennine Lancashire authorities with separate zones in Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn, and joint Burnley/Pendle zone. The bid was based on land already earmarked for development in local plans but a successful bid would help accelerate housing development through access to infrastructure loan funding and support from the Homes & Communities Agency. Though we have been shortlisted it is early in the process and there are a lot of details that still need to be clarified."

The Preston bid is understood to contain city centre and city fringe sites.

Housing zones are expected to be large enough to contain between 750 and 2,000 homes but bigger schemes will also be considered. Successful bids were submitted by councils working with developers, and were invited to bid for a share of £200m for infrastructure and land remediation to get their ideas off the ground.Successful zones will have access to cheaper borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board and priority access to expert planning and technical support from the ATLAS service run by the Homes & Communities Agency.

The 29 shortlisted bids announced on Thursday will go through an assessment process which will include looking at value for money and commitment to delivering high quality homes quickly.

Also announced yesterday, another 37 councils will receive a share of £5m funding in this financial year to help bring large-scale sites forward for development.

In the North West, Carlisle will receive £83,000, Cumbria £20,000, Liverpool £130,000, Manchester £475,000 and Preston £102,000. This funding will provide capacity support for local authorities to enable them to undertake planning, project management and technical activities necessary to bring sites to the point of delivery.

Each council has identified schemes capable of providing at least 1,500 homes, and will now use this funding to speed up preparatory work.

Cameron and Osborne told 200 guests at the event, hosted by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Allied London at the former Granada Studios site off Quay Street, that the Conservatives had a six-point pledge to improve the North West economy, focussing on transport, science, quality of life, job creation, devolved political power and boosting the overall growth rate of the regional economy to at least the national average. Much of the detail was repeated from the Autumn Statement. There were new announcements about health research and commissioning of a feasibility study into a road tunnel through the Peaks linking Manchester with Yorkshire.

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