'Bracewell Homes': New details emerge about Harrogate council's new commercial housing company

Harrogate Borough Council's new commercial housing company will be called Bracewell Homes Ltd and its first board meeting will be on April 1, councillors have been told.

Harrogate Borough Council voted in favour of establishing the company in January.

Members of the overview and scrutiny committee were updated on Monday by the council's head of housing and property, Madeleine Bell, and cabinet member for housing and safer communities, Mike Chambers, on the progress of the company, which council voted to establish in January.

Councillors were informed that the business's key focus would be on the purchase, development, sale and leasing of dwellings, as a commercial venture for the borough.

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“The activity that we envisage at the moment is to develop land that is within the general fund for housing, (as well as) owning and letting private rented homes...(we're also) interested in acting as a letting agency,” Ms Bell said.

She also confirmed that the business was looking at "some activity outside of our district” such as expanding the independent living service accommodation they could offer, adding that Otley and Ilkley were areas that had been identified as an opportunity.

Ms Bell added that pre-application plans have already been submitted for two developments on council-owned land.

Depending on how the pre-application process went, the proposals could yield a maximum of 30-dwellings, she said.

Coun Ann Myatt was among the councillors who posed questions, asking how a perceived "conflict of interest" would be managed, with council's planning committee required to decide on planning applications from its own company.

Coun Chambers responded that it was "not a matter of conflict of interest, it's a matter of transparency" with the planning committee to "make sure everything gets proper scrutiny".

Councillors also voiced concerns about the level of expertise required to develop larger developments than had previously been undertaken by the council in their housing account, which has a specific focus on affordable housing.

Coun Nigel Middlemass said he was "concerned where that expertise is going to come from because local councils are not developers”.

His concerns were echoed by Coun Nigel Simms, who said he was "a bit sceptical" of how the company would fare going up against industry specialists.

“There are people out there who are out there purely and simply to make money," he said.

“There are guys who have got 40-50 years looking at sites, thinking 'where can I make a profit?'. It's not as easy as it's been made out to be.”

In response, Ms Bell said that a variety of council-jobs were held by property experts, including various officer and directors, who all had extensive backgrounds in property development.

In a light-hearted moment at the end of the meeting, committee chair Philip Broadbank asked a question that was on many minds: why the name Bracewell Homes Ltd?

“A facetious answer was that all the good names were taken," Ms Bell replied, adding that when trawling through a list of potential titles, many of the accompanying domain names were already taken.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporting Service