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Controversial Heart of Eden company set to be dissolved

Heart of Cumbria, the controversial Eden Council-owned company which had a contract for 81 properties at Penrith’s Carleton Heights development, is set to be wound up.

Last night, Eden councillors voted in favour of Heart of Cumbria Limited being dissolved and its assets and functions being brought into council control.

Paul Sutton, interim director corporate services, said: “We are looking to close the company in this financial year and we will be putting resources in place to manage and maintain the properties, both that we have now and as they are continued to be built.”

The contract to build the homes was with Persimmon Homes.

He added: “This is about making this work, the best that we possibly can for Eden district, so the properties move back into the authority.

“Whilst right to buy does come into play, there are many other options that we have for the use of the properties.

“For instance, at the moment, there is no shared ownership arrangements available for the properties and these are things where we can look to support, both people in terms of rented and home owner sector, so it produces opportunities for us to look at both rented and shared ownership for tenants in Eden.

“It gives us much more flexibility having control for the properties as they come into the council ,without there being a financial impediment in terms of the way they are being operated.”

Eden Council chairman Andy Connell said: “I don’t believe this implies any criticism of people who worked very hard on the project – those who became directors – but a recognition that for various reasons this hasn’t worked out as we had hoped.”

Mike Eyles (Lib Dem, Penrith) said that while he had previously criticised Heart of Cumbria as a concept, he had got no criticism at all of the “brave councillors” who put themselves forward to become directors.

“It’s certainly a job that I would never have done, although I must admit it was offered to me at one stage,” said Mr Eyles.

Joan Raine (Con, Crosby Ravensworth) said it was very sad that Eden Council couldn’t make this work when there were many so many rural community land trusts, like Crosby Ravensworth and Patterdale, that can.

“I think there has been some failings somewhere along the line that Eden District Council have not been able to make this work when smaller communities can,” she said.

Karen Greenwood (Ind, Appleby) said: “It was the hope of many of us that it would be answer to our problem of housing our young people in the district and preventing their migration to other parts of our country and the world.

“We still have the problems where we have the lowest paid workforce and the worst housing situation in Cumbria, growth, higher paid jobs and  good affordable housing are still our aspiration, but sadly we must recognise that professional advice tells us that the Heart of Cumbria is not going to be the answer we had hoped for,” said Mrs Greenwood.

Last September, councillors were told in a report that Heart of Cumbria was taking on properties at Carleton Heights as and when Persimmon build them.

As of the end of August, it owned 37 homes (representing 46 per cent of the total to be purchased) — and a further nine were due to be bought by April this year.

At that time 21 homes had been let and 16 were empty — 14 of which were purchased in June, July and August.

In addition, Heart of Cumbria’s assets were said to have increased in value from £520,500 in 2018-19 to £1,241,250 in 2019-20.

The company had borrowed £1.397 milion from the district council for purchases up to August 27 2020, and the deposit to secure a total of 81 properties from Persimmon Homes.