Marketing of Cambridge homes overseas provokes fierce debate at city council

Councilors had a heated debate over claims that a property company in which Cambridge City Council is a joint partner had marketed homes to overseas investors in Hong Kong.

The leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, Cllr Tim Bick, said the evidence this was happening was in “black and white”.

Cllr Tim Bick

In a motion submitted to the Labour-led city council’s annual council meeting last Thursday (May 26), Cllr Bick called for new homes the council had a financial interest to stop being marketed to overseas investors.

However, Cllr Mike Davey (Lab, Petersfield), the executive councilor for finance, resources and transformation, argued Cllr Bick was asking the council to stop something it had never done.

The debate centered on private homes at the Ironworks and Timber Works sites in Cambridge built by the Cambridge Investment Partnership, a joint venture between the local authority and developer Hill.

Cllr Bick (Lib Dem, Market) said seminars took place in Hong Kong to market the propertiesand argued that the promotional material used made it clear it was promoting a “potential purchase founded on price appreciation and investment return”.

He said: “One explanation that will not wash is that this is really a form of humanitarian help to people to help migrate from Hong Kong.

“Anyone who wanted to move to Cambridge from Hong Kong, or anywhere else in the world would simply have to contact a Cambridge-based estate agent and most welcome they would be in this diverse city if they went ahead and made that move, like all of those who managed to migrate here over many years without this kind of red carpet.”

Cllr Bick also argued that it was not good enough to say this was something developers “simply did”.

He said: “We know we face a huge housing deficit in Cambridge for those who want to live or work here, so when big new housing developments like Timberworks and Ironworks come along, there should be no shortage of takers.

“There should be no need to scour the world’s wealthy to make sure they are assured a place in the queue or to shore up demand.”

The Labor administration refuted the arguments made by Cllr Bick that the events were aimed at investors.

Cllr Davey claimed Cllr Bick’s motion was “misleading, disingenuous and contradictory”.

Clr Mike Davey
Clr Mike Davey

He said: “The Cambridge Investment Partnership has never sought to attract international property investors and we have had a local market strategy from the commencement of the purchasing of the property.”

Cllr Davey said the Cambridge Investment Partnership had built 531 homes in Mill Road and Cromwell Road. He said of those 236 were council houses and 295 were put up for sale, of which 21 were sold to Hong Kong nationals.

Cllr Davey said when it came to marketing the properties estate agents in the city were approached, but said “unfortunately” this was during the pandemic and that after six months it was then opened up internationally.

He said after 12 months it was still “sluggish” and said there had been some interest from people living in Hong Kong. He acknowledged that two events were then held to see if there was any interest.

Cllr Davey said the group undertaking the marketing were instructed to do “due diligence” on those looking to purchase the properties, and that there was a one property per person rule.

He said: “CIP provides homes for those in need through our council housing, CIP sells homes to people from wherever in the world to those who wish to live here and CIP brings in money to the council that we can well do to have at this time of need.

“Unfortunately Cllr Bick’s motion seems to undermine this work, and it is seen as innovative and good practice throughout the country, which is why CIP keeps on winning awards.

“He’s asking us to stop doing something we have never done and to start doing something we have always done.”

Timber Works, Cromwell Road, Cambridge - developed by the Cambridge Investment Partnership
Timber Works, Cromwell Road, Cambridge – developed by the Cambridge Investment Partnership

After heated debate between councilors an amended motion was passed by the council.

The original motion submitted by Cllr Bick said: “Council requests the executive councilor for transformation, finance and resources by all feasible means to bring a rapid end to the practice of marketing new homes in which the council has a financial interest to overseas property investors; and replace it with an unlimited 100 per cent local marketing strategy, focused on those wanting to live and/or work in Cambridge, regardless of country of origin.”

The amended motion put forward by Cllr Davey, which was subsequently approved, said: “Council welcomes the fact the Cambridge Investment Partnership does not market new homes in which the council has a financial interest to overseas property investors.

“Council also welcomes the local marketing strategy employed by Cambridge Investment Partnership, focused, as it does, on those wanting to live and/or work in Cambridge, regardless of country of origin.

“The due diligence carried out by CIP of prospective purchasers of new homes for sale, has ensured, where possible, what new homes will be for those working and living in the city.

“Council also notes that the CIP has established a national profile for innovation and good practice, whereby profits made from house sales can be used to reinvest in city council activities, whilst at the same time providing 236 new council homes for those in most need. ”

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