Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Construction under way on Archery Ground in late May.

Construction under way on the Archery Ground in late May.

Threat to Archery Ground affordable housing

The diminished supply of affordable housing in Hastings could take a further hard knock if Gemselect’s request to drastically reduce the number of affordable homes in the Archery Ground redevelopment gets council approval. Nick Terdre reports.

The current planning permission for the old college site on Archery Ground in St Leonards-on-Sea, which was granted in late 2016, calls for 121 dwellings to be provided, consisting of 24 converted units in the listed buildings of the Archery Terrace and 97 newly constructed buildings of which 68, equivalent to 56% of the total, are to be affordable homes.

The new proposal, HS/FA/18/00291, is to halve the number of conversions to 12 and reduce the number of affordable homes to 28, equivalent to 25% of the new total of 109 units. As the planning statement points out, 25% is compliant with Hastings Borough Council’s policy for the affordable housing obligation for this size of brownfield development.

If passed, the application will reduce the number of affordable homes on the site by 40. The supply of affordable housing in Hastings is already in a dire state in the face of most developers’ determination to rid their projects of affordable homes. In 2016/17, no affordable homes were delivered in Hastings.

It will also undermine Gemselect’s reputation as one of the few local developers which builds the affordable homes it signs up for. The planning statement attributes the request to slash the affordable housing quota to Gemselect’s partner, the housing association Orbit Homes, which according to the planning statement “has changed the number of units it wishes to take on the site.”

Gemselect seeks to halve conversions in the listed buildings of the Archery Terrace to 12.

Gemselect seeks to halve conversions in the listed buildings of the Archery Terrace to 12.

Changes cause delays

Orbit’s development manager, Kieran O’Leary, told HOT, “Since acquiring the site in 2014 in conjunction with Gemselect, our proposals have been subject to a number of changes which have resulted in delays, adding to the cost of build.

“The number of affordable properties now being proposed within the development as a whole, are in line with planning policy and will be considered under planning guidance by the local planning authority,” he said.

This suggests that increased costs were part of Orbit’s decision to take a smaller number of affordable homes. When HOT asked whether there was another motive, given that a near 60% decrease in the number of affordable units represented a reduction in investment which went well beyond an adjustment for rising costs, it was told that Orbit had “nothing further to add at this stage.”

After Gemselect acquired the Archery Ground site along with the planning permission granted to the previous owner, it filed a full application to increase the number of affordable homes, in addition to proposing several other changes, backed by a confidential viability assessment. Originally this application was to build 72 affordable units, though when the decision to grant planning permission was issued, the number had been reduced to 68.

Similarly, although the planning officer’s report to the committee stated that a Section 106 contribution of £36,654 had been agreed, by the time the decision was issued, any mention of a financial contribution had disappeared entirely. Nor does the S106 agreement signed at the time, which concerns management of the woodland area, mention any sum of money.

Section 73 requested

No viability assessment has been submitted this time. This is because the developer has asked for the application to be dealt with under Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act which allows existing conditions to be amended without the need to submit a full planning application.

As the planning statement notes, the official guidance relating to Section 73 states that it is “likely to include any amendment where its scale and/or nature results in a development which is not substantially different from the one that has been approved.”

Walls are rising on the site behind the listed buildings off West Hill Road.

Walls are rising on the site off West Hill Road behind the listed buildings.

In the opinion of planning services manager Eleanor Evans, changing 40 dwellings from affordable to market and halving the listed buildings conversions does not make the development substantially different from the one that has been approved.

Former development control officer Chris Lewcock contests this view, describing the changes to the development and legal agreement as “fundamental and substantial…Clearly a reduction in the number of units by 12 and a reduction in affordable units from 56% to 25% will have significantly different implications across the piece on say drainage, parking standards, play provision etc. etc,” he wrote to Ms Evans.

“A further full planning application is required in order that the overall change in impacts can be assessed and a balanced decision reached.”

Minor amendment?

Local resident Chris Hurrell also objected to the application being handled as a minor amendment on a number of grounds, one being that in an application concerning a development in Fern Road, the planning department had stated that a “minor amendment is acceptable as long as the number of units does not change.”

Ms Evans rejected his objections, but did not specifically comment on this point. The applicant’s agent also submitted a reply to Mr Hurrell’s objections.

The request for a swingeing reduction in the quantity of affordable housing came late in the day. The letter sent by the planning department to Gemselect summarising pre-application discussions – a copy of which was sent to Mr Lewcock under a Freedom of Information request – referred only to the proposal to reduce the number of listed building conversions, which it welcomed, but made no mention of the affordable housing.

Comments in favour or against can be posted on the council website. So far only two objections are listed, though HOT knows of six which have been submitted. Once five objections have been lodged, the application has to go to the planning committee.

New planning committee

Following the local elections, the composition of the 10-strong committee has changed. It is now chaired by Cllr Alan Roberts with Cllr Warren Davies as his vice; both are Labour. The other members are Cllrs Heather Bishop, Ruby Cox, Margi O’Callaghan, Phil Scott and Mike Turner, all Labour, and Conservatives Matthew Beaver, Mike Edwards and Sorrell Marlow-Eastwood.

Construction at the Archery Ground stopped for a period last year while a number of planning conditions were being discharged, but resumed in January. The first homes are expected to be ready for occupation in late 2019,

Orbit’s Mr O’Leary told HOT: “In the past three years, Orbit has developed over 140 affordable homes in Hastings, providing a mix of tenures to fit the different needs and aspirations of the local community.

“We remain committed to delivering much needed, high quality affordable housing in the area and currently have a pipeline which will deliver more affordable homes across the town in the next four to five years.”



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Posted 14:59 Thursday, May 24, 2018 In: Home Ground


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    For all of you who are concerned about affordable housing, section 106 agreements and misuse/abuse of the Minor Modifications route, may I suggest you have a look at planning application
    HS/FA/18/00208 Fern Road.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Jun 8, 2018 @ 08:45

  2. Chris Hurrell

    I agree with Tim Barton that primary responsibility for the viability report get out clause on affordable housing lies with the Tory government’s changes to planning regulations.

    I am also certain that many local councillors are unhappy that developers are evading affordable housing.

    What I don’t understand is why our local Labour council has not taken local action to minimise the harm. Other Labour councils such as Brighton and Greenwich have implemented supplementary planning policies that ensure that viability statements are made public if a developer claims they cannot meet the affordable housing requirements specified in the local plan. Shelter has stated that making the viability statements public reduces misuse of the system and increases supply of affordable housing.

    Islington’s Labour council has now implemented policies that mean that any planning application that does not meet affordable housing obligations can be rejected. This policy has been taken to court by developers and the court ruled in favour of Islington.

    Here in Hasting our Labour councillors lament the loss of affordable housing but do nothing to implement local policies to support it. We have been waiting since 2003 for the publication of an affordable housing policy.

    Rather than just blame the government and wash their hands of all responsibility the local council should be following the examples of other Labour councils across the country.

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Thursday, Jun 7, 2018 @ 16:32

  3. bolshie

    This Eleanor Evans would say that reduction would have no difference to the affordable home issue. After all she is the one who is head of the planning department. She is hardly going to agree with anyone outside of the council is she???

    Here we are now almost ten years since all this fiasco over the Archery Ground began. How much money has been spent by the council alone on staff time and resources – of course that is tax payers money there.

    The very original plan put forward in 2007 was quite acceptable and campaigns such as STAG (Save the Archery Ground) would probably never had formed. But back then the head of planning Tim Cookson said there were not enough units for the site. Hence what has followed – so there you go. Another disaster really.

    Comment by bolshie — Thursday, May 31, 2018 @ 16:48

  4. Tim Barton

    My understanding is that Osborne altered the rules such that developers may challenge social housing provision in court on grounds of ‘financial non-viability’ of the project if standard percentages of social housing requirements are not relaxed.

    I am willing to bet that half the ‘on hold’ projects now going ahead were developers expecting this get-out clause and all too happy to defer works until they could trigger it.

    And that most courts rubber-stamp this even when it is highly dubious that project viability is really effected by providing social housing.

    On a local council note: I have personally had conversations with elected officials and am certain that many want a much higher social housing provision, not a lower one, and deplore the greedy developer-friendly Tory changes to the rules.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Thursday, May 31, 2018 @ 11:22

  5. David Alan Stevenson

    Agreed, Ms Doubtfire. Out of all the laws in this country, the planning laws must be the weakest / most ignored / most misinterpreted / most abused laws of all. And what idiot invented the phrase “affordable housing”. Since everyone has different incomes, different expenditures and different priorities, it is impossible to define what is affordable.

    Comment by David Alan Stevenson — Monday, May 28, 2018 @ 11:53

  6. Ms.Doubtfire

    And so it goes on and on and on…shocking to think how many years this development fiasco has been festering. How can HBC’s planning officer Eleanor Evans say that the 60% reduction of affordable homes provision does not make the development substantially different from the one that has been approved? Are these planning officers for real?
    Little wonder that so many controversial planning applications are simply rubber stamped. It makes not one iota of difference whether we have two, three or one hundred objections on the planning applicstion – they will get passed anyway – same as the Visitors centre was agreed on Monday. Welcome to Mad Hatters Tea Party land. And for the historians amnong us just remember that this piece of land inwas originally left under covenant to the people of Burton St. Leonards for their pleasure and relaxation…who managed to have this covenant removed? Have a guess!!!!

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 16:48

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