Council’s affordable housing policy being tested again by east Leeds development plans

Plans to build 86 houses in east Leeds are back in front of councillors next week. And they’re turning out to be a sort of test case for Leeds City Council’s affordable housing policy.

Almost exactly a year ago, the council introduced a new interim policy which basically reduced the percentage of affordable homes that developers had to provide from 30% to 15%. The aim was to encourage developers to get building at a time when the housing market is stalled.

So, imagine the surprise of councillors when in January this year plans for the 86-house development at Colton in East Leeds were first submitted.

Developers Strata Homes said the margins for the scheme were so tight they weren’t going to be able to include ANY affordable homes, or stump up the full level of contributions (Section 106 contributions, they’re called) that developers are expected to pay to the Council to help with the costs of such things as education, transport and local employment and training.

Planning officers’ advice

With the cost of the affordable homes included, the Council expected £1,740,000. The developer said it could only afford £749,000.

The council’s planning officers took advice from colleagues in the Civic Hall about the viability of the scheme and … came down on the side of the developers.

“In the current climate officers consider the scheme should be supported,” a report from officers said at the time.

To their credit, councillors on the council’s plans panel for the east of the city were having none of it. They went against the planners’ advice and refused the application.

Given that the council had agreed an affordable housing policy, they said, it should be adhered to in all cases. And saying ‘yes’, they noted, would have set a dangerous precedent: any developer could then come along and make similar claims and get similar treatment.

Developer finds extra £700,000 

So, fast forward three months – and the council’s planning officers have been having talks with all parties concerned: the developers, the owners of the land and councillors and, lo and behold, there is a new offer on the table from the developer. Someone has dug into their pockets and found a further £700,000.

“As a result a substantially improved offer of £1,482,700 has now been proposed,” a report from officers on the revised application says.

Which means that, while the full S106 contributions are still £250,000 short of what the council’s policy demands, the required number of “affordable homes” would now get built as part of the development.

That is, if councillors accept the revised offer at their meeting next Thursday (17th May)

“The revised contributions offered on this site now go a long way to meet the Council’s ask
and that the offer now on the table would enable the site to be developed in the short term,” the latest report from officers says.

“The question for members (councillors) having regard to the revised offer is whether the go ahead can now be given in the light of the substantially improved offer which is now incorporated in the revised application,” it adds.

Precedent for lower contributions?

The case does raise some interesting issues:

* if councillors had followed the advice of the council’s experts (the planning officers) in February, the council would never have seen the extra £700,000 that it’s now being offered

* how is a scheme that was barely viable in February, still viable in double-dip May even though it’s costing £700,000 more?

* is there some kind of bartering game being played here, in which developers put in an initial cheeky offer to test the water and see what they might get away with?

* if the council accepts the offer as it stands (£250,000 short of what council policy demands), then doesn’t that set a precedent too for all developers to negotiate down their contributions to the communities in which they are building?

* and how is the new affordable housing policy doing? anecdotal evidence in January seemed to suggest that only 38 affordable housing units had been built since the new policy was brought in at the beginning of June 2011. Would be interesting to know the figures for the year-end.

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4 Responses to Council’s affordable housing policy being tested again by east Leeds development plans

  1. Mr Photos says:

    Interesting to see a photograph that one has taken a few years ago appearing in your blog. I guess I will never make any money out of it now 😦

  2. Mr Photos says:

    Ah my child – like you I must remain in the shadows

    • So be it. I will look for you there as I walk this city’s streets alone, my jacket furled against what Simon & Garfunkel used to call Society, my nose pressed against the glass, watching, watching from the darkness…

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