Can a pension fund solve our housing crisis?
Plus, Mayfield Alpacas is put up for sale
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
That we have a housing crisis is not in any doubt. As a country we haven't built enough houses for years and as a result affordable housing to buy or rent is increasingly difficult to find. Sheffield has set itself the target of building 35,700 homes over the next 16 years. But how is this going to happen? A new “strategic partnership” between the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and the pension fund Aviva Capital Partners was proposed last week as one possible solution. But what will the pension fund want in return for their investment? And will their needs always align with those of South Yorkshire’s citizens?
As well as that, we have a wonderful photo from the Parkwood Springs Lantern Procession, the Off The Shelf literary festival continues all week, and Mayfield Alpacas is put up for sale!
Catch up and coming up
Over the weekend, we published a history piece on a legendary garage in the “lesbian capital of the north,” which is also the subject of a new musical coming to the Crucible soon. Our writer Sara Royle spoke to Roz Wollen, one of three women who founded Gwenda’s Garage in Neepsend in the 1980s, about their efforts to ensure mechanical expertise wasn’t solely left to the men. The garage was “part of something a lot bigger,” Wollen says. “There were lots of things going on at the time for women, done by women, and it was a huge buzz.”
Last week, our lovely paying members received two extra pieces. In the first, Dan got a rare opportunity to see inside one of Sheffield’s most distinctive buildings, the “cathedral to electricity” that is Moore Street electricity substation. For the second, Victoria tried to understand why teenagers on the Manor estate keep pelting the 24 bus with eggs and bricks and what can be done to get them to stop. You can read an excerpt from the paywalled portion of that piece below.
Inside, I find Julie Coldwell, 64, and Kody Kennedy, 30, running a youth club for Manor kids… They’re unsure if their club has a name or even if it’s funded by the council — it probably is, Kennedy decides eventually — and it turns out I’m doubly lucky to have come across them, because it’s only open from 5 to 7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During the day, the building houses alternative provision for kids who have been excluded from school, which one of the boys, a curious 13-year-old with a lot of questions about the shorthand I’m using to take notes, says he’ll be attending from tomorrow. He tells Coldwell he hasn’t been in school for three months.
Next week, paid members will receive a timely piece about the burning of the grouse moors above Sheffield, and the results of another investigation into the living conditions for the city’s asylum seekers. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield based on subscriptions rather than clickbait and endless stories about celebrities, please subscribe using the button below. It costs just £1.34 a week or 23p a day if you pay for 12 months up front (£70).
Editor’s note: Last week provided a good example of the range of our reporting at The Tribune. We had a cultural review, an in-depth investigation, and a historical piece. Of these, it’s the investigations that take the most time and cost the most money. We have several big investigations on the go at the moment, but in order to pay for those we need your support (in fact, for one we might need to hire a lawyer, so we’ll have to pay for them too!). If you want to support our work and you’re financially able to, please become a member of The Tribune today.
The big picture: Lighting up the night 🏮
On Saturday evening at dusk, the annual lantern procession took place through the woods at Parkwood Springs. Organised by the Friends of Parkwood Springs, the event sees people from across Sheffield parade with their stunningly creative homemade lanterns to the sound of Samba music. Photo by Tim Dennell.
This week’s weather 🌥
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say we’ll have a dry, chilly start to the week, followed by wetter but slightly warmer conditions from Wednesday onwards.
Monday 🌥 Potential for early frost ahead of a dry day, with some sun but also cloudy periods. Chilly, with a high of 11°C.
Tuesday 🌥 Another chilly morning giving way to a dry, if rather cloudy, day. Some brightness, with eastern winds freshening later. Highs of 13°C.
Wednesday 🌧 Low pressure from the southwest will bring wet weather later in the day and overnight. Highs of 14°C.
Thursday 🌦 A breezy and unsettled day, with further outbreaks of rain or showers likely. Limited brightness possible. Highs a milder 16°C.
Friday 🌧 The wet front isn't moving anywhere fast, with further spells of rain likely and a lot of cloud swirling around. Otherwise, fairly mild and quite windy. Highs of 15°C.
Outlook: A chilly weekend looks likely as the mild air gets replaced by colder air from the east. A bit of a windchill then, with rain or showers likely. 🌬☔️
The big story: Can a pension fund solve our housing crisis?
Top line: Last week the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority announced the signing of a “memorandum of understanding” to form a “strategic partnership” with Aviva Capital Partners aimed at “fostering innovation, economic growth and housing development in South Yorkshire”. That sounds great, but what will it mean for Sheffield and South Yorkshire?
While it might seem strange for the combined authority to partner with a large insurance company, the hope is that it will be beneficial to both parties. Aviva Capital Partners (ACP) is Aviva’s new in-house capital unit set up to “utilise the company’s financial strength to invest in a range of regeneration, housing and infrastructure projects and deliver returns for their retirement customers”. No specific sites have yet been identified, but South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard indicated housing would be a priority:
“Working closely with Aviva, I am looking forward to the opportunities that this relationship will bring about for South Yorkshire as we accelerate the growth of new businesses, foster innovation, and promote modern construction methods for residential development. With a need for approximately 5,000 new homes annually, including 2,000 affordable homes, this is the start of a collaborative approach that will address the needs for the residents of South Yorkshire who deserve access to safe, affordable housing for themselves and their families.”
Speaking of families, it won’t have hurt the deal-making process that Aviva Capital’s head of cities and government (Mark Bousfield), and the combined authority’s corporate director for growth (Tom Bousfield) are, in fact, brothers.
The authority described the partnership as a “landmark collaboration”. However, pension funds partnering with public bodies to invest in major regeneration projects isn’t that unusual. Legal and General are one of the major funders of the huge West Bar Square development which is currently taking shape near Kelham Island, investing £150 million in one of the buildings.
And Coppard has already shown his willingness to work closely with the private sector to deliver housing projects. The SYMCA recently gave Manchester-based developer Capital & Centric more than £11m to ensure the viability of its major new project at the former Cannon Brewery site in Neepsend, despite concerns over the affordability of its other projects in the city.
There is an obvious rationale for utilising the financial power of the private sector to help fund public authorities’ policy objectives, but we’ve had our fingers burned in the past. As we all know, Sheffield City Council’s 25-year Streets Ahead private finance initiative deal with Amey went catastrophically bad and, in 2019, the PFI-funded Hadfield Wing at Northern General Hospital was closed down for a year and a half after it was found to be a fire risk.
Another concern of such a deal is that it could exacerbate what has been termed the “financialisation of housing”. Increasingly, lots of high-rise buildings in major cities are built with money from pension funds, who use the money collected from rent to benefit their members (so-called build to rent schemes). This means young people who can’t get on the property ladder are essentially paying for the retirements of wealthier older generations.
Our take: On one level, leveraging the power of pension funds to help deliver things our region needs feels like a pragmatic solution to our housing crisis. In the era of never-ending austerity, city regions are increasingly having to rely on private investment, and the big pension operators have very deep pockets and long time horizons. However, as Sheffield has found out to its cost recently, the interests of the private sector don’t always align perfectly with the needs of the people. As ever, the devil will be in the detail.
Home of the week 🏡
If you’ve ever dreamed of handing your notice in and going to work on a farm, here’s your chance — kind of. Mayfield Alpacas, a “highly reputable animal-based visitor attraction” on the edge of the Peak District National Park, is up for sale, along with a two-bed flat for the owner or manager. In addition to the titular alpacas, the farm has a wide range of exotic and farm animals, including meerkats, skunks and two pigs that were rehomed from a flat in Sheffield. The current owner is asking for offers in excess of £950,000.
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Our media picks 🎧
Was Sheffield misled about new rail projects? 🚆 As a consolation prize after HS2 was scrapped, northern cities were recently promised a host of new rail projects. Sheffield in particular was set to receive huge benefits, such as the return of the Don Valley Line and even the long-forgotten Victoria Station. But in the short time since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made these promises, NowThen report, “what were presented as firm commitments have been thrown into doubt”.
Sheffield Wednesday appoint 34-year-old as new boss ⚽ Rumours have been swirling for a while — The Times called it almost a week earlier — but on Friday it was finally confirmed: Danny Röhl is the new manager of Sheffield Wednesday. Rohl, 34, has never managed a club before and is now the youngest boss in the English Football League. BBC Radio Sheffield sports manager Rob Staton says he’s made a good first impression on fans but has “picked one of the toughest jobs in England to launch a career”.
Bankrupt Birmingham 🎧 File on 4, from BBC Radio 4, investigates how Europe’s largest local authority was brought to its knees, a crisis that has worrying implications for Sheffield’s own council. In September, Birmingham Council issued a Section 114 notice, essentially declaring itself bankrupt, in part due to the financial hit from equal pay claims. Not long after, Sheffield Council was hit with its own equal pay claims — could it be in danger too?
Things to do 📆
☕ On Tuesday evening, Cuppers Choice in Burngreave is hosting “a night of coffee excellence,” inviting award-winning coffee producer Benjamin Paz to speak about his work. The event starts at 6pm (so clearly everyone involved is better at getting to sleep than I am) and promises a coffee tasting, a raffle, beers, pizza and “general enjoyment”. Entry is free but you can book your place here.
📚 As part of Off The Shelf literary festival, Noreen Masud will speak with Joanna Dobson on Wednesday evening about her debut memoir A Flat Place. The book is a “love letter to the flat landscapes of Britain,” such as Orkney and Morecambe Bay, which Masud uses as a key to understanding her own story and subjects like colonialism, complex trauma and human connection. The talk takes place at Sheffield Hallam’s Performance Lab and tickets are free.
👻 Also on Wednesday evening, get into the Halloween spirit early with a guided ghost walk through the heart of Sheffield. The tour includes the story of a “shocking real-life exorcism” and a “cryptic creature” which has stalked Sheffield for centuries. The tour sets off at 8pm from Tudor Square and advance tickets are £12, or £8 for children.