'Unbelievable situation' as affordable homes reduced for developer in South Molton

North Devon Council meeting

North Devon Council meeting - Credit: LDRS

The number of affordable homes to be built at a new development in South Molton has been slashed from eight to three after a viability appraisal found the original plans were unaffordable. 

Developers of the derelict land off Southley Road, which used to be a recycling centre and haulage depot, were granted outline planning permission by North Devon Council (NDC) last year for 26 new homes on the condition that eight would be classed as affordable housing. 

It was also decided that the applicant, Spirebourne Ltd, a Tiverton-based waste disposal company, would pay £26,000 towards the A361 Borners Bridge junction, while around £67,000 would go towards public open space and £174,000 towards education. 

Land off Southley Road, South Molton

Land off Southley Road, South Molton - Credit: Google

However, after approval was granted, a new viability appraisal was commissioned by the applicants. The appraisal was carried out by S106 Management, an Exeter-based viability consultancy, and independently reviewed by Plymouth City Council (PCC). 

Following the appraisal, Spirebourne submitted a new planning application to NDDC that proposed giving less money back to the council, arguing that the original contribution stipulated by the council was unaffordable. 

This week council planning officers informed councillors they accepted the results of the appraisal and feedback from Plymouth and concluded that only £267,000 could be given back to North Devon, severely limiting the number of affordable homes NDC could ask for. 

The planning committee discussed three options for dividing the smaller contribution. Choices included three two-bed affordable homes alongside a £20,000 contribution to public open space, or two two-bed affordable homes plus £50,000 towards public open space and the same figure towards education facilities. 

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A third option was for no affordable homes but more cash: £26,000 on highways, £67,000 on public open space and just over £174,000 on education. 

In the end, councillors decided to go for the first option – three affordable homes plus £20,000 – but not before some frank criticism. 

Councillor Marc Cornelius of South Molton Town Council told planners that his council believed the reduction in affordable homes to be ‘an unbelievable situation’. He argued that the change ‘was very much not to the benefit of the town or its people or indeed North Devon as a whole’. 

In a statement read to the committee, NDC leader, and ward member for South Molton, councillor David Warden said he ‘found it incredible’ that very few affordable homes could be built. He pointed out that the land is level and in the middle of town, adding: “If no affordables can be provided here, then where can they?” 

Councillor Ray Jenkins also questioned the new viability arguments. “I find it very difficult to understand how the equation has changed so dramatically over the years,” he said. 

“Houses have increased in price very significantly in recent years, as have the costs – why should the equations change so dramatically?” 

Councillor Joe Tucker commented on the increasing number of developers getting out of providing affordable homes by claiming doing so is not financially viable. 

“What a state we are in? It’s not our fault, he said. “It is obvious now that developers now have latched on to the situation and it looks to me as if they can nearly do whatever they want to.” 

The council’s legal advisor assured councillors that the viability assessment for the development had been independently reviewed and was trustworthy. 

A motion was added to the planning approval which stipulates the affordable homes can only be used for social rent and must be built early in the development. It is not yet clear how long the development will take to build.

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