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Assuming it now gets built, the Station Plaza housing development will be located behind the college, (left) and NHS health centre.

Assuming it now gets built, the Station Plaza housing development will be located behind the college (left) and NHS health centre.

Affordable housing on Station Plaza scrapped

An application for removal of the affordable housing obligation in the Station Plaza development was approved with reluctance by the planning committee last week. The decision raises fears for the future of such housing in Hastings. Nick Terdre reports.

The Station Plaza housing development was approved in 2007 as part of a wider plan encompassing the new college and an NHS health centre. Under a Section 106 agreement the planning permission included a 30% quota of affordable homes among the 103 housing units. While the college and NHS centre have been built, the housing development has so far been left on one side.

Last week the planning committee approved relief from the affordable housing obligation. In its application the developer John Laing’s agent argued that the project could only be made viable if this agreement were dropped. Details of how it reached this conclusion were included in a confidential report which was not disclosed to the committee, and which was endorsed by the District Valuer Service in another undisclosed report.

Councillors unhappy

Committee members approved the application with reluctance, arguing that they had no choice. “I’m afraid the truth is that the ‘viability’ factor came into play here,” Cllr Phil Scott told HOT. “Developers did indeed play the ‘viability’ card and the District Valuer I’m afraid agreed with their case. For sure it does leave a bad taste in the mouth of members as our hands are very much tied, as much as we may protest.”

It was a change of rules by the government which brought the viability card into play, according to Cllr Michael Wincott. “This encouraged developers to seek to remove this obligation by showing the development to be unviable unless this was removed,” he said.

“The Council obtains an independent assessment of this from the District Valuer and, without conclusive evidence to the contrary, this has to be accepted. No planning inspector would refuse an appeal without this evidence.”

The trend towards applying to drop previously agreed affordable housing “…really is disgusting,” Cllr Wincott said.

HOT understands that members also criticised the practice of developers of sitting on land with planning permission until conditions became favourable for seeking relief.

Chris Lewcock, chairman of Hastings Urban Design Group, lamented the decision. “We’ll be losing in the order of 30 affordable flats,” he told HOT. He said he was also concerned about the loss of affordable housing on the basis of a confidential report when nobody had any way of assessing how valid the claims for relief might be.

Confidentiality questioned

“There may be particular reasons for confidentiality in this case, but nothing of that has been told to the members, and that’s very unsatisfactory,” he said. “Certainly there have been cases elsewhere where that information has been made publicly available.”

In an objection comment on the application Mr Lewcock cited a recent case in which a tribunal “…concluded that any harm in disclosing the information [concerning pricing and profit assumptions] was outweighed by the public interest in understanding the reasoning for particularly controversial decisions.” The Station Plaza decision was both a matter of public interest and controversial, he added.

The claim of unviability could also have been examined in the light of signs that the property market was picking up, he said. At a public meeting earlier this year on the proposed lido development in West St Leonards, a consultant engaged by the council said that the local property market was becoming more buoyant.

Mr Lewcock said he also feared the repercussions of the committee’s decision. “I think such applications will become increasingly common,” he said. “If one developer gets away with it, other developers will say, Why can’t we? Does that mean we will have no housing developments including affordable housing in the borough?”

 

Posted 14:15 Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016 In: Home Ground

9 Comments


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  1. Ms. doubtfire

    There is another little scheme which is going the rounds here: a developer will put in an application for a development of two bedroomed homes and get approval and is levied with the appropriate S.106 payment they will have to make- BUT they then submit another application upgrading these houses to four or maybe even five bedrooms – they get the planning permission but are not asked to pay any increase in the S.106 agreement!
    ….one would assume that the S.106 payments agreed would need to increase to take account of the increased value of the new properties…but it appears that this isn’t happening and developers appear to be on a really good little scheme here. Some would say that it is nothing less than an avoidance scheme.

    Surely this means Hastings is being deprived of much needed Section 106 monies? Why is our planning department allowing this clever little scheme?

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Friday, Jan 6, 2017 @ 08:54

  2. Judy Staynes

    Where We’re Going

    Keep the little Morlocks in shipping containers, vans and benders on contaminated brownfield sites, constrain them to work without any employment law protection: wiping bums, scouring streets, and driving 2000 miles a week, feed them on yellow labels and from the Food Bank and the charitable dustbin – grind them till their backbones crumble, refuse support, let them die – plenty more where they came from.

    No one worthwhile would tolerate this, so it’s the best the Morlocks deserve.

    Boom boom! (Pun intended.)

    Comment by Judy Staynes — Wednesday, Dec 28, 2016 @ 21:49

  3. Andy Ammo

    This business brings the planning system into disrepute once more.  How much confidentialty (or ‘confidentiality’) is necessary in a decision relating to market conditions?  The developers’ documentation and the DVS’s (District Valuer Services) should be publicly available, for the sake of local democracy.  How can this lack of viability (or ‘viability’) happen in a rising market?  If 30% affordable housing was no longer feasible, how about a percentage of a bit less than that?  Why was the outcome 0%?    

    Yet again HBC (both members and officers) have brought themselves into disrepute.  Protest or give up, please.  Crocodile tears aren’t good enough.

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Tuesday, Dec 27, 2016 @ 17:22

  4. Heather Grief

    So how many millions of pounds profit did John Laing make last year? If they signed up to providing ‘affordable’ housing, then they should be forced to keep their word. There’s no such thing as ‘unviable’ housing, just ‘eye-wateringly profitable’ or ‘not quite so profitable’ housing.

    Comment by Heather Grief — Tuesday, Dec 27, 2016 @ 13:23

  5. Chris Hurrell

    This is not an isolated example HBC have a track record of failing to levy affordable housing contributions. A development at High Breezes of 82 houses did not include a single affordable housing unit – instead the developers were made to pay a paltry 50k pounds towards affordable housing contributions.

    Last year councillor Chowney was informed in a meeting about the misuse of minor amendments by his planning department. Sadly he failed to act and the developers avoided any affordable housing contributions on a development of 25 houses. This decision was entirely in HBC’s hands. It seems that HBC continue to be very compliant with developers.

    It is of great concern that the Planning Committee were not given access to the developers viability statements. The committee made a decision without being in full possession of the facts. Viability statements on other developments have not been allowed into the public domain.It is incomprehensible how the Planning Committee can be asked to make a decision without full access to this information.

    There have been several recent tribunal decision which allow viability statements to be put in the public domain: http://35percent.org/heygate-foi-eir-tribunal/ http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21664:tribunal-tells-council-to-disclose-redactions-from-housing-viability-assessment&catid=1

    This article discusses the scams used by developers: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jun/25/london-developers-viability-planning-affordable-social-housing-regeneration-oliver-wainwright

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Friday, Dec 23, 2016 @ 10:45

  6. Spiny Norman

    This decision was made blindfold as the Planning Committee was not permitted to see the developer’s viability assessment on affordable housing.

    The Planning Committee did not even ask for more information or any form of justification. It is not even clear if HBC’s Planning Department saw the viability assessment and there is nothing obliging planning officers to implement, or act upon any of the District Valuer Services’ (DVS) recommendations if the DVS found flaws.

    Instead of this being “out of our hands”, as Cllr Chowney claims, HBC could follow other councils, such as Greenwich, and have a planning policy mandating public, unredacted affordable housing viability assessments from developers. The “recently introduced” planning law “loophole” (Section 106BA of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990) used by the developers expired on 30th April 2016.

    Comment by Spiny Norman — Thursday, Dec 22, 2016 @ 17:47

  7. Ms. doubtfire

    Far too many ‘confidential’ reports are being witheld from the public in recent times. However, this affordable housing issue is of high importance to the general public and what’s the betting this information will have to be released in due course once some ‘pressure’ is placed on this council.
    Does our Leader seriously imagine that simply by placing the CONFIDENTIAL stamp on every document that his council officers want concealed will be meekly accepted by residents? Nope – we all have a right to see what is going on with these ‘confidential’ planning decisions. Enough is enough now.

    Which brings to mind another recent happening here which appears to have taken place without any local consultation: the proposal to rename Aquila House in memory of the suffragette Muriel Matters is no doubt a nice way to honour this lady but – how much will the re-branding of letter headings and all the other stuff which will need to be re-branded cost US – too much money is being spent on totally unnecessary fanciful stuff – this council needs to get their priorities right.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Thursday, Dec 22, 2016 @ 09:13

  8. ken davis

    When, oh when, oh when, will our national politicians recognise that the best policy is to be open about the financial aspects of development such that we can all see if a specific scheme is viable or not. This notion of commercial confidentiality only breeds the view in the public eye of corruption in the planning system where we need openness and honesty. In this specific case it is hard to see that a scheme which long ago had the foundations and drainage in place (maybe 25% of the cost) is now rather suddenly unviable!We are let wondering if the district valuer knows what he is doing.

    Comment by ken davis — Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016 @ 22:47

  9. John Faulkner

    I totally agree with the comments made by Chris Lewcock. Where is the public accountability if the report is not available to the public.

    Comment by John Faulkner — Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016 @ 21:57

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