Agenda item

Planning Application Number 15/06400/F - Former Chocolate Factory, Greenbank Road

Mixed use development comprising conversion of existing remaining buildings (labelled Blocks C, D and F) and erection of new buildings to provide: 135 dwellings (91 apartments; 44 houses) (Blocks A, B, D, E, F, G and terraces); 485 sq m Class B1 floorspace (Block D); 726 sq m of commercial floorspace (Use Class B1/A1/A2) (Blocks B and C); 332 sq m of flexible community/business/health/leisure floorspace (Class B1/D1/D2) (Block C); 412 sq m flexible Class A3 or A4 floorspace (Block D); and associated accesses including a new pedestrian/cycle link onto the Railway Path, parking and landscaping. (Major Application)

Minutes:

Officers outlined the key details of this Planning Application, including details of the Council’s Affordable Housing Policy:

 

(1)        The Council’s policy was to seek 30% (Outer area of the city) and 40% (Inner area of the city) of affordable housing for developments. However, if the developer was unable to provide this percentage due to the viability of the scheme, a lower percentage (including 0%) could still be acceptable in planning policy terms;

(2)        The Council’s affordable housing policy was adopted in June 2011;

(3)        The Council is also required to act in conformity with the National Planning Policy Framework , as well as the Financial Viability  in Planning document (RICS Guidance), both of which were published in 2012.  Surveyors and Valuers were expected to abide by the RICS Guidance. Officers’ view was that both of these policies had  an adverse effect on the Council’s ability to obtain affordable housing. The RICS guidance made clear that assessments had to be made on current cost value and could not be factored forward;

(4)        Councils were required to take into account the price paid for land;

(5)        There were other examples elsewhere in the country where Local Authorities had approved schemes that  provided no affordable housing – for example, a recent scheme for 1,300 dwellings in a more prosperous area of Manchester;

(6)        It was generally more expensive for a developer to convert an existing building into flats;

(7)        Most schemes that the Council received were generally  small in the context of large scale housing schemes elsewhere;

(8)        Assessments were not taken at face value but were rigorously challenged. The Council’s consultants carried out their own assessments and did not rely on developers, particularly in the event of fundamental differences. However, assessments had to be based on planning viability and could not take account of the developers’ attitude to risk;

(9)        There was a deficit in this scheme of £1 million;

(10)      In view of the current policies in operation, officers could not recommend refusal in this case. Officers recommended acceptance of the developer’s offer following discussions with Sovereign Housing Association of 6 affordable units for Block A, which had been made following the developer’s consideration of their commercial position and likely timescales for receiving planning permission;

(11)      Highways and Parking – the scheme proposed 117 car park visitor spaces and 20 communal car park spaces which was a shortfall of 2 from the agreed ratio;

(12)      Greenbank and Corporation Road will be a stop for emergency vehicles;

(13)      Design and Layout – this was considered an acceptable urban design;

(14)      Amenity – amendments had been proposed to the scheme where officers had concerns about the existing proposals;

(15)      A solar renewable system would operate on the roof;

(16)      Various other proposed amendments were set out on the amendment sheet;

(17)      If the scheme was approved, it would be subject to a legal agreement to cover it

In response to Councillors’ questions, officers made the following points:

 

(18)      Councillors were required, as usual,  to determine the application before them;

(19)      The costs of the building works themselves were between one third and 40% of costs – other costs included finance, CIL, professional fees and profit;

(20)      The assessment of the viability level of affordable housing was based on the DVS report dated 17th October 2016 – they were happy that the  sales values for the development set a new benchmark high for the area;

(21)      As part of the initial assessment, it was felt that the developers’ costs were too high – the initial contingency of 7.5% had been reduced to 5%;

(22)      Whilst technically the £50, 000 contributions could alternatively be made by the Neighbourhood Partnership as part of their local CIL contributions and which could help towards the cost of further affordable housing, decisions about expenditure of CIL were for NPs to make and not the Development Control Committee;

(23)      There were schemes with affordable housing which had been recently approved – for example at Jacob Street, Old Market and Dunmail since they met the criteria of 30 to 40%;

(24)      Officers understood members’ concerns about the contrast between the Local Plan requirement for affordable housing (based on housing need) and the levels of affordable housing that were being supported by individual planning applications. Planning Inspectors examined all local policies before they are adopted and it  was a requirement for any target for  affordable housing that it was subject to viability. In addition, Planning Inspectors also made decisions about appeals against refusals of planning permission;

(25)      The National Planning Policy Framework and RICS Guidance restricted how Local Planning Authorities can operate in terms of assessing viability and negotiating affordable housing;

(26)      Whilst Councillors’ concerns about the political impact of decisions were understood, and that the provision of affordable housing is a material planning consideration, the guidance was clear that the scale of public opinion cannot be given undue weight when making decisions on planning applications ;

(27)      Viability advice received by the Council will continue to be made public to ensure maximum possible transparency with any necessary redactions for genuinely commercially sensitive information;

(28)      The Nature Conservation Officer had been involved in the assessment of the site to determine if there was any evidence of bats roosting on the site and had clearly indicated that there was no evidence that they were despite repeated inspections. Nevertheless an additional condition 8 had been added to provide mitigation if required;

(29)      There were late night licensed commercial units at the site. Whilst these were subject to a separate statutory process, there were conditions which restricted the developments to A4 use, their opening hours, ventilation and to limit Anti-Social Behaviour;

(30)      There had been previous schemes proposed on this site which would have provided some affordable housing but had either been unfeasible due to the market situation or had been refused for other reasons. Given the history of the site, officers felt that it was unlikely that there would ever be affordable housing up to 40% on site;

(31)      Officers were currently carrying out a piece of work on site delivery and housing delivery for the city as part of an assessment of its land assets, as this was an important way in which the wider Council could meet housing need outside of the planning process;

(32)      Officers noted Councillor’s concerns about the issues raised by the Police. However, they were expressing their views according to their own concerns. There did remain some concerns for officers about the proposals for gating which were contrary to urban access principles.

 

Councillors made the following comments:

 

(33)      The opposition to the proposal from the community was extremely strong, including from the local MP. Development should meet the needs of people within the ward. It was not acceptable for developers to put forward proposals for very small or no affordable housing whilst ensuring that they made a profit;

(34)      In other countries (ie in Scandinavia) cheaper materials were used for housing which helped to reduce costs. Something similar to this should be used here;

(35)      A large number of Councillors locally and nationally had been saying for some time about the urgent need for affordable housing. The current policy to provide 30 to 40% affordable housing might need to be re-evaluated if existing legislation made it so difficult to reach this level with developments;

(36)      Parking issues were a problem on the site. The non-provision of parking on the site was very disappointing in view of the difficulties within the surrounding area;

(37)      This development was a wasted opportunity in terms of its design since it was a landmark site. There were also concerns about potential Anti-Social Behaviour in the square and the increased pressures on parking. However, by far the most serious problem with the development was the lack of affordable housing. The agreement by the developers to provide 6 houses was too little, too late. More radical solutions (such as using cheaper possibly recycled materials) needed to be examined to solve this problem;

(38)      Whilst the public anger concerning this application was understandable, anger should be directed at Central Government who set the rules by which the Council has to operate. The Committee had to bear in mind that if it refused the application and lost on appeal, it could pay costs;

(39)      The design of the development in relation to the adjacent cycle track was good. Whilst the parking was less of a concern since the development was so close to the City Centre, the lack of affordable housing was not acceptable;

(40)      There appeared to have been some mistakes in the viability report. Further analysis and a re-assessment of this report was required;

(41)      There were serious concerns about affordable housing. However, whilst there had been some material flaws in the viability report, these had been corrected. If the application was refused, there was a likelihood that the Council would lose on appeal and costs would be awarded against them;

(42)      It was frustrating that the need for affordable housing appeared to have been sacrificed in order to ensure that the historic buildings were retained;

(43)      The development system in respect of affordable housing was broken. The current rules for testing viability were now redundant and needed to be changed. The scheme needed to be deferred to re-assess its viability and for negotiations with developers for a scheme which better suited the needs of the people of Easton;

(44)      The highways proposals were not acceptable.

 

Councillors thanked the Planning Obligations Manager for all his work in responding to questions from Councillors on this issue.

 

Councillor Eddy moved that the application should be approved. This was not seconded.

 

Councillor Stevens moved, seconded by Councillor Clarke and, upon being put to the vote, it was

 

Resolved (8 for, 2 against, 1 abstention) – that that the application be deferred pending:

 

(1)        further consultation with local stakeholders about the need for more affordable housing on the site including discussions about:

(i)         the possibility of a trade-off between the need for retaining the existing buildings and provision of further affordable housing on the site

(ii)        further analysis of the viability appraisal reports used in the assessment process as appropriate

(iii)       negotiations with the developers about the mix of uses on site and potential flexibility with the site allocation policy

(2)        further discussions with the developers about parking and traffic.

Supporting documents: