Go ahead for 211 homes but Bideford plans fall short on affordable homes

North Devon Gazette

Up to 211 homes and 16 acres of business land could be created in Bideford.

Members of Torridge District Council’s planning committee were split about the plans, but approved the scheme on land to the south of the Caddsdown Industrial Park and Clovelly Road in the town - despite concerns about the low number of affordable homes promised and no guarantees of a new school being built nearby.

The applicant, a developer called Bideford LVA, which is owned largely by asset management companies, said only 13 affordable homes could be built if the project is to be financially viable.

The council’s aim is for all new housing developments to have 30 per cent of homes classes as affordable – which, if policy ambitions had been followed through, would mean around 63 properties for the project.

Councillor David Brenton criticised the plans. He said: “How many meetings have we had where we’re wringing our hands saying ‘What we need in this area is affordable housing and we’re not getting it from this [development].’

“You’re telling me that with a bit of squeezing they can only come up with 13 [affordable] homes. C’mon, that’s just not on. We’re not stupid people, we now fully well these people do make big profits.”

Cllr Brenton asked planners to turn the application down and for the developer to come back with a “realistic” number of affordable homes.Â

The concern is shared by Bideford Town Council, which is also worried about more traffic on busy roads, environmental impacts of the development and the strain it may add to local infrastructure.

The town council argued that the development should be rejected.

Officers said the low number of affordable housing was partially acceptable because of the £1.25 million in section 106 contributions, including contributions to education, the NHS and library services the developers would be making.

Section 106 agreements are financial contributions made by developers to local government in order to offset some of the pressures on local resources caused by new projects.

Officers also noted that there is a significant need for business land and housing in North Devon.

A viability review was included as part of the planning permission granted by councillors.

It means if the developer makes significantly more money than expected – which is possible with rising house prices – the council might ask for more affordable homes to be provided.

Councillor Peter Christie described the number of affordable homes currently promised as 'derisory'Â and criticised 'ridiculous'Â claims made by developers that it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to market the properties.

He said: “All you do is put them on the internet and they sell in two days.”

Cllr Christie also worried that the outline application did not provide clear details where a new school would be built in the area with the money from the developer.

He said the application should be deferred until this is known, saying: “Otherwise we leave ourselves open to complete chaos in the education system in Bideford.”

Councillor Dermot McGeough agreed, telling the planning committee: “The school issue is paramount to the local area. Slipping it under the carpet isn’t good enough.”

A senior officer pointed out that plans for a school nearby already had outline planning permission and said he was 'confident' it would be built.

However, this wasn’t enough of a guarantee for Cllr Christie.

He said: “Nothing is being tied down, nothing is being signed off. It’s all very well saying this site provides the money but where does the money go?”

He maintained that the application should be deferred until the new school is signed off, but his motion for deferral failed, with three votes in favour and six against.Â

If the project does go ahead, almost £888,000 will be contributed to primary education in the area by the developer as part of the section 106 agreement.

A further £98,000 will go on providing education for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

A total of £52,000 would go to early years education.

Only 16.3 acres of employment land will be built as a result of the development, significantly less than the nearly 20 acres North Devon and Torridge Council’s aimed for when drawing up their local plan.

Jonathan Chick, a consultant at Walsingham Planning Ltd, the agent for the developers, told councillors: “This is not an opportunistic or speculative application but one that has been brought forward carefully within a plan-led system.”Â

He argued that selling the vast majority of homes at market rate would make the employment land, and the jobs it will potential create, financially feasible.Â

“Therefore,” he argued, “this is not a loss of employment land from the allocation, but a means to bring the employment land forward. Without this application, there would be no employment land coming forward or being made available.

“The employment land will make an important contribution to the economic needs of the area, including significant job creation for residents and surrounding communities.”

The council’s economic regeneration officer admitted that the proposals were “a long way from a perfect scenario” but concluded that they were necessary “to bring forward much-needed employment land for Torridge.”

Councillor Rosemary Lock joked: “How many times in life let alone in planning considerations do we get perfect scenarios?”

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