Homes plan causes split

COUNCILLORS were split over a decision to change the availability of affordable homes in a proposed housing development, with some feeling that without the change the whole scheme would be in jeopardy.

Members of Northumberland County Council’s north area planning committee deferred the decision for the scheme at Willoughby’s Bank in Alnwick at last Thursday’s meeting.

Northumberland Estates has planning permission to build 76 new homes at the site and had originally agreed that 41 would be available as affordable homes at 70 per cent of market value.

Planning officers recommended that members approve a change that would see 27 offered as affordable homes, above the council’s 35 per cent guideline, at 80 per cent of market value.

However some members felt that this was unacceptable, particularly the change to a sale price of 80 per cent of market value.

Coun Dougie Watkin said the committte should offer a counter-proposal of 50 affordable homes at 60 per cent of market value.

“The objective of this application was to make affordable housing available to people in this county,” he said.

“The developer got permisssion to develop the site. They are there to play the system and make money.

“If you want to sell houses, actually reduce the price.”

Coun Anthony Murray accepted the reduction to 27 affordable homes to move it forward but not in the percentage.

“The developer has got less houses to give the rebate on. I still believe they should be at 70 per cent of market value.”

Coun Robert Arckless said he felt ‘uncomfortable’ about the changes.

“We are faced with a dilemma here,” he said.

“Do we go with a scheme that delivers some of what we want or do we stick with what we would like, knowing it’s unlikely to ever get off the ground?

“We are being asked to give a lot here. This is not the first time and I expect it will not be the last. I would prefer the 70 per cent.”

But others didn’t want to threaten the plans, which went through eight attempted applications before being accepted, with Coun Trevor Thorne saying that ‘we risk losing the whole scheme’.

“The housing market is very difficult at the moment,” he said. “What we want in our district is a housing development that delivers affordable housing.”

Coun Gordon Castle said: “We have in the past amended at least two applications where we had a percentage of affordable housing that would be unworkable.

“Having granted permission, we want to see it come to fruition.”

The change to the affordable homes offered had been looked at by the housing enabling officer and Coun Castle warned against putting off the scheme based on insufficient information, although Coun Watkin said that in this case, it was more ‘housing unenabling officer’.

An initial motion to approve the scheme was overturned by five to three before it was agreed to defer the decision.