Affordable housing plan for prime sites

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DOZENS of development sites around South Yorkshire which are worth tens of millions of pounds are to remain in public hands, the Government has confirmed.

Opposition politicians had feared the land, owned by Yorkshire Forward, could be sold off to the private sector at knock-down prices to raise money to help pay off the national debt.

They were concerned that the sites would only fetch low prices in the current economic climate.

Yorkshire Forward, one of several regional development agencies being wound up by the Government, owns 34 sites in the county - 13 in Rotherham, eight in Sheffield, eight in Barnsley and six in Doncaster.

Now ministers have revealed all regional development agency assets will be transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency, a Government organisation charged with providing affordable housing.

In the first stage, former coalfield sites are changing hands, including 22 owned by Yorkshire Forward, some of which are in South Yorkshire.

The remainder will be transferred next year.

Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East, said: “I think the news is better than if the sites had been flogged off to private companies when land values are low so they would have not recouped their full value.

“But it’s not as good as if the Government had let the sites be transferred to local councils so they could take control of their regeneration.

“This Government talks about localism but it is giving regional assets to a national agency.”

Among the other sites being taken over by the Homes and Communities Agency are 13 coalfield sites owned by the East Midlands Development Agency, including some in north Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire.

Among them are the former Avenue coking works, in Chesterfield.

David Curtis, executive director at the Homes and Communities Agency, said: “This transfer acknowledges the key role the HCA has played locally in managing and developing coalfield land and property assets, our prior investment in these sites and our wealth of experience in working with partners to deliver economic and regeneration benefits to local communities where it is most needed.

“This builds substantially on our existing coalfields regeneration programme as part of our ongoing land and regeneration work.

“We will continue to work with partners in the region to ensure the best outcome for local communities and maximum value for money,” he said.

“The HCA’s work regenerating former coalfield areas, through its National Coalfields Programme, has had a huge impact in transforming the fortunes of these areas, through the creation of thousands of new homes, jobs, businesses and green spaces.

“The inclusion of these additional assets within our wider land portfolio will ensure that this legacy continues.

“It will make a major contribution to the localism agenda.”