The HIF blame game begins
A guest piece by Rupert Turpin on the biggest mistakes of the project
Editor’s note: A slightly unusual one from us today, as we have a rare guest piece. Following the collapse of Medway’s £170m Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) investment, we wanted a perspective from someone involved in the process on how it all went so wrong. Former Medway Council Cabinet member Rupert Turpin was in post as Medway Council won the money until he was eventually sacked for opposing his own administration’s Local Plan in 2021. He talks us through the 10 biggest mistakes of the HIF project…
The HIF blame game begins
by Rupert Turpin
Losing £20 down the back of the sofa is annoying for most people, but how do you even contemplate the loss of £170m of government funding amidst a falling out with Homes England and a list of 39 (yes, 39!) reasons why Homes England felt they had to recommend the project should be discontinued.
I had a ringside seat for part of this multi-year journey as part of Medway’s Cabinet and took part in some decisions. But from initial euphoria at the grant in 2019 from Homes England, I now believe that these large-scale infrastructure projects need to be delivered by a completely different model. It was never realistic for Medway Council officers to be able to deliver a new railway line, even had SouthEastern been more cooperative than most. It was always pie-in-the-sky affordable even before construction costs rocketed and, most importantly, the serious governance failings guaranteed it would alienate local councillors, MP, and population with its secretive and even disingenuous leadership of the project.
Unfortunately, the new Labour administration have done a reverse ferret on all their criticisms of the transparency of the project prior to their election and have maintained the vice-like grip on vital information surrounding the project, such as the ecological assessments and the transport assessments, not to mention any new “strategic” plans they hastily cooked up at the last minute in a desperate bid to keep at least some of the funding. The HIF lies in tatters and community relations are at an all-time low between the good people of the peninsula and Medway Council.
Heads need to roll at the highest level, not just a few sacrificial lambs, and a culture change is long overdue. Perhaps this crisis will precipitate this. It certainly should do.
Here is my list of the 10 biggest mistakes of the HIF project. Believe me, it was quite hard to cut the list down in size, and I have no idea how close my criticisms are to those 39 of the Homes England team.
1. Failure to get the infrastructure providers on board
An infrastructure project like this may be small beer in the national context but it is huge for a local authority. Right from the start, this project had a shaky basis because the commitment from the railway companies (Southeastern) that would run the rail service from Hoo was lukewarm. As the project went on, it became clear they would be asking for subsidies to run any service long into the future - something that was simply not budgeted for adequately, and was an unaffordable risk for a smallish local authority such as Medway.
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