*** Update 13 October 2020 included below ***
Homes England is the government’s "housing accelerator", with a multi-billion pound budget to unlock public and private land for development where the market cannot do it alone.
Peter Freeman is also the co-founder with his brother Michael and Chair of Mayfield Market Towns (MMT) Ltd, the company wanting to build a new town immediately east of Henfield. Campaign group LAMBS says of the company:
"They have harassed landowners to sign options for 7 years, and their promotion of a “New Market Town” has blighted residents causing stress throughout that period. Requiring Councils to consider and challenge their plans has also created considerable cost to the Council Taxpayer and local residents."
"However, as unaccountable and wealthy individuals they continue to promote their plan and cause continuing anxiety despite the lack of support from residents, parish councils and MPs due to the scale of the proposal, its unsustainable and undeliverable location, and its impact on local communities. "
The decision to appoint Peter Freeman to Homes England is subject to a pre-appointment scrutiny committee hearing with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee in October. Should he be successful he will serve a 3-year term in the role.
The Government website says that if he is appointed, he plans to step down from his role as Chair of Mayfield Market Towns "to avoid any perceived conflict of interest".
Peter Freeman commented on the appointment:
"Homes England has a vital role to play in improving the lives of all those affected by the housing crisis. If appointed, and working closely with government, I believe we can, and must, deliver on the promise to provide homes to allow all to experience a better quality of life.
The key is not only in building the necessary quantity, quality and variety of housing, but in creating homes where people can enjoy a real sense of belonging to vibrant communities."
Horsham District Council is currently considering whether to approve the development of Mayfield as part of its new Local Plan, the next draft of which is expected early in 2021.
Update 13 October 2020
The scrutiny committee met yesterday afternoon and a video recording can be seen here. The section of the video discussing conflicts of interest starts at time stamp 16.24.38.
Freeman acknowledges being involved with two businesses (Argent and MMT) that could create a "potential or perceived" conflict of interests:
- He is on the Board of Argent Services but not the Argent operating companies. He says he has no financial interest in the Argent projects that are funded by Homes England (eg Brents Cross, £148 million) though Argent Services would benefit from management fees. He’s an investor in the King’s Cross project but he doesn’t think Homes England will have any involvement there.
- He told the committee he would step down as Chairman and from the board of MMT but WOULD NOT sell his shares. He said he would lose too much money as the site is not allocated in the Local Plan. He said he would sell the shares if it became allocated, which would be before any grants or loans could be made from Homes England. He doesn’t believe Homes England would play any role in getting the allocation. That would allow him to recoup the investment he has aleady made in Mayfield.
No decision was made at the end of the hearing and the committee went into private session to deliberate.
Editor's note: Any views expressed in this article are those of CPRH and do not necessarily reflect the position of Henfield Hub CIC.