Meet Peter Freeman, head of Homes England – the man charged with delivering Cambridge growth
The head of Homes England - the master developer behind Northstowe - will lead the new group exploring where thousands of new homes could be built in Cambridge.
Peter Freeman has been appointed as the chair of the Cambridge Delivery Group, which the government has tasked with delivering its vision for the city.
The announcement last week from Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities, came as the government said it wanted to “supercharge” Cambridge as “Europe’s science capital”.
Mr Gove and the Prime Minister committed to “a new era of regeneration, inner-city densification and housing delivery across England”, and promised “transformational change in Cambridge, central London and central Leeds”.
It followed earlier reports that Mr Gove was looking to make Cambridge the “Silicon Valley of Europe”, with the building of up to 250,000 new homes in the area.
In his speech last week, Mr Gove did not specify a number of homes for the city, but the government’s announcement said: “These ambitious plans to support Cambridge include a vision for a new quarter of well-designed, sustainable and beautiful neighbourhoods for people to live in, work and study.
“A quarter with space for cutting-edge laboratories, commercial developments fully adapted to climate change and that is green, with life science facilities encircled by country parkland and woodland accessible to all who live in Cambridge.”
Backed by a £5million investment, Mr Freeman has been given the task of “driving forward” the government aims, which have already drawn a cross-party backlash from politicians in the region.
For the last three years Mr Freeman has been the chair of Homes England, the government housing delivery agency.
As the the master developer for Northstowe, it has been responsible for providing the strategic infrastructure and appointing housebuilders to build the homes.
But as Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, pointed out, it is severely lacking the facilities you would expect for the development six years into its creation.
“The new town has no shop, no pub, no GP practice and no dentist,” he said. “Northstowe has become emblematic of the failures that have destroyed residents’ confidence in the effective delivery of large-scale housebuilding.”
Before Homes England, Mr Freeman spent most of his career working in development.
Mr Freeman read history at Balliol College, at the University of Oxford, before training to be a lawyer at his father’s firm DJ Freeman.
He has previously said in interviews that he was not a “natural lawyer”, and left the profession to jointly set up the Argent development company with his brother Michael.
Their first project was a 4,000 square feet development in Southampton, but Mr Freeman has gone on to lead larger projects.
When he was appointed to his role at Homes England in 2020, the government highlighted some of these projects, including the redevelopment around King’s Cross Station, and Brindleyplace in Birmingham.
The government also set out a number of other roles he has had over the years, many relating to the development industry. These include:
- Chair of Mayfield Market Towns Ltd
- Publisher of Freeman Guide to the Property Market
- Non-executive director of Land Securities property company
- Non-executive director of MEPC property company
- Chair of property industry steering group ‘Investment Property Forum’
- Chair of judging panel for Home of 2030 competition
- Principle author of industry report ‘Housing Sprint’, in March 2020
- Member of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation.
He has also been awarded a CBE in recognition of his services to housing and communities.
He will need all his experience to navigate the challenge of ‘supercharging’ development in Greater Cambridge, where the city council and South Cambridgeshire District Council already have plans for nearly 49,000 homes by 2040 under their emerging Local Plan.
Of particular concern is whether the region’s water supply and infrastructure can meet the demands, with two new reservoirs planned to serve the region not due until the late 2030s.
The government said it would be convening a water scarcity group and announced a £3million funding pot to “support measures to improve the water efficiency of existing homes and commercial property across Cambridge”.
In a speech to the Inside Housing Development Summit in June 2021, Mr Freeman stressed that the country “must make progress towards a zero-carbon society”.
He said: “We are realising that our children, and their children, will not thank us if we continue to build poorly designed homes and places. We are recognising that the way we develop neighbourhoods, towns and cities is key to our health and well-being.
“As we look to the future, building the homes the country needs to unlock opportunity and growth will be crucial, but the pursuit of those ambitions can’t be just a numbers game.
“We are more likely to win the argument for new, extended and rejuvenated settlements across the country precisely by promoting well-designed, connected, vibrant places where people can prosper through the different stages of their lives.
“For me personally, my outlook on shaping new communities is heavily influenced by my work as co-founder of Argent in its masterplanned, mixed-use developments at King’s Cross and Brindleyplace in Birmingham.
“Turning King’s Cross from a rail terminus surrounded by dereliction to an enormously attractive destination in its own right was a massive undertaking, but the principles that underpinned our approach have shaped the design of vibrant places for centuries.
“We sought to work in partnership to create places for people to live, work, play, get educated and enjoy themselves in uplifting surroundings.”