Affordable homes reduction at Bank site

THE number of affordable homes in a 76-house development will be reduced, but a push will be made to secure all of the properties for rent.

Members of Northumberland County Council’s north area planning committee agreed to allow the number of affordable homes to be built as part of the controversial scheme at Willoughby’s Bank in Alnwick to be reduced from 41 to 27.

They will be available at a maximum 80 per cent of market value for rental, but 70 per cent of market value for sale, rather than the originally-agreed 70 per cent for both. The decision was made after the planning officers had gone back to the applicant, Northumberland Estates, following September’s meeting in which members were willing to reduce the number of homes but not to push up the level to 80 per cent of market value.

The response from the Northumberland Estates said that retaining the level of rent at 70 per cent ‘will reduce the prospect of a RSL (Registered Social Landlord) providing all of the affordable housing at an early date’. However, at last Thursday’s meeting, the debate quickly turned to what proportion of the affordable homes would be made available to rent.

Coun Gordon Castle said: “We have to be pragmatic and if we are anxious to get the scheme to proceed we shouldn’t impose conditions that make it less likely rather than more likely. If we want the scheme to go forward we have to take account of economic reality. We don’t want years of delay while the scheme lies dormant waiting for the market to recover or the economy to recover.”

Coun Trevor Thorne said: “I would hate to see it sabotaged by we, the planning committee, going for the very best terms. These are fair terms and we will have some much-needed affordable housing here in Alnwick.”

Coun Brian Douglas said: “It’s better to take half the apple as get nothing at all.”

He also pointed out the major economic problems in the construction industry.

However Coun Dougie Watkin said that ‘little if anything has changed’ in the time since this scheme was given the go-ahead in August 2010.

“This policy (of affordable housing) is aiming to stop the economic migration of young people from Northumberland because there’s nowhere for them to live,” he said. “Clearly, we should not be building cheap houses for people who can already afford houses.”

He wanted to ensure that all 27 affordable units were available for rent, but the planning officers told members that it wasn’t sustainable to impose that as a condition. But it was pointed out that the response from Northumberland Estates said that ‘maintaining the 70 per cent level will reduce the prospect of an RSL taking up all 27 units’, which implies that there is a possibility that all will be taken up by an RSL.

Coun David Moore said the committee had already agreed to reduce the number of affordable homes from 41 to 27.

“We may not get 100 per cent rental but we should be asking for that with a fall-back position of 75 per cent,” he said.

Coun Robert Arckless said: “If we push for all of what we want we might end up with nothing and I don’t think anything has changed. There are market forces here and it’s about getting a fair balance.”

Members agreed to the changes on the basis that the planning department’s negotiations with Northumberland Estates will seek as many of the affordable units for rent as is feasible.

l More from north area planning – Page 7