Besides the Mount Pleasant application at the SCDC Planning Committee meeting on 8th October, there was, but with less profile, the Bennett Homes application for 16 new houses at the AtlasFram site in New Road. Normally we would support development on a brownfield site like this but we were concerned that the developer was trying to wriggle out of the affordable homes requirement just like Hopkins Homes did at Station Road.
Unlike Hopkins and Station Road, Bennett Homes could not use the ‘unexpected high levels of contamination has made it uneconomic’ argument because their own site report said the levels of contamination were very low and not of any concern. So instead they argued the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) had increased their community contribution by so much it made the site uneconomic if the five affordable houses were included in the build. Instead they were prepared to make a contribution of £60,000 to the affordable housing scheme managed by SCDC. The SCDC Case Officer recommended approval. This set a worrying precedent, so we decided to speak against the development and urge the committee to insist on the affordable homes.
We argued that the AtlasFram is a prime site with views across the mere and the castle so houses would sell at a premium price. There are no hurdles to development (contamination, flooding, access restrictions) so if the Planning Committee agreed that CIL made this site uneconomic then this would become a precedent that could be used by every subsequent developer to avoid building affordable homes. We suggested that SCDC should negotiate the overall CIL contribution to protect the affordable homes but Philip Rowson made it very clear to Committee that the CIL trumped affordable homes and this was non-negotiable.
We were heartened to see the Town Council were also at the meeting making a similar argument in support of the affordable homes.
It was clear that this argument had some support and the committee debated the issue for some time. There was then a closed session where we believe the details of the Economic Viability Report were discussed. Unfortunately after this session the committee approved the application.
We fear that this precedent will now be used by developers to avoid building affordable homes, particularly on brownfield sites. Another consequence is that SCDC get the CIL contribution and we don’t get the affordable homes. We have to bid to get the CIL monies allocated to Fram and in these budget restricted times there will be a lot of competition from other communities with other needs.
So good news that homes are to be built on the site but bad news that this unfortunate precedent has been set.
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