Affordable homes removed from Far Cotton scheme so developers can make a profit

An approved housing development will be stripped of its affordable housing because the scheme was not ‘viable’ if it was included.

Wednesday, 25th September 2019, 6:19 pm
The housing scheme, on the old Sofa King building site in Far Cotton, will no longer have any 'affordable' homes

Councillors had previously waved through the demolition of the former cinema and Sofa King building in Far Cotton, to be demolished and replaced with 40 new homes. The original application included conditions to make 35 per cent of the housing in the Towcester Road scheme ‘affordable’.

But the application came back before the planning committee of Northampton Borough Council on Tuesday (September 24) asking for the affordable housing to be removed as the scheme would not be ‘viable’.

Planning policy sets a ‘reasonable’ profit rate for developers at the 15-20 per cent mark. An independent viability assessment found that the development would make a loss if it committed to the affordable housing levels, but would make a 17.5 per cent profit if the commitment was removed. It would still pay section 106 contributions, however.

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Asked by members why the scheme was coming back to them, planning officer Hannah Westone said: “The developer wanted a quick planning permission, but since then they realised they can’t provide what they said they could.”

Head of planning Peter Baguley added: “The National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF) says that a 15-20 per cent return is reasonable. It allows developers to come back and say that things have changed and they can no longer make it work.”

Members of the committee eventually voted the variation through reluctantly, as the scheme would still help contribute towards the council’s housing targets.

Conservative councillor Matt Golby abstained in the vote, saying: “I understand the case put before us but I think we have a fundamental issue in that it came to us before in good faith by the applicant, who knew their obligations and how important these are. I find it difficult to just nod this through.”

Labour councillor Arthur McCutcheon was one of two councillors to reject the application. He said: “To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. I’m actually furious. I’m fed up with these developers wriggling out of what are perfectly reasonable requests.”

But Councillor Mary Markham, a Conservative, reluctantly voted the scheme through and said the council would likely lose an appeal to the detriment of the taxpayer.

She said: “I’m extremely disappointed that this has come back and that they didn’t do their homework. There was great objection from the public, but we went with the developer because of the affordable housing being offered. On the flip side, the applicant would appeal if we rejected this and would probably win. We are having to make a decision with one hand tied behind our back.”