AFFORDABLE HOMES: £1.2m written off BY Sefton Council
Sefton Council has had to “effectively write off” more than £1m meant for affordable homes after the company redeveloping a former industrial estate in Formby said it could no longer afford to pay the money.
Members of the council’s planning committee were dismayed to learn that the developer building a care home on the site of the former Mayflower Industrial Estate, Mayflower Manor Ltd, was offering just £266,000 for affordable housing elsewhere in the borough.
The original applicant, Ascot Property Group, agreed to provide 10 affordable homes on site, but Mayflower Manor, which bought the site in 2017, later claimed it would not make enough profit if it was held to this agreement, nor could it afford the £1.45m payment for off-site affordable housing suggested by the council.
The application to reduce the contribution was made in the name of Ascot Property Group as a result of a mistake by the applicant’s agent. Ascot has had no involvement in the site since selling its interest in 2017.
At a planning committee meeting on Wednesday (April 14), Cllr Bob McCann said: “What we are being asked to do is to effectively write off £1.2m and by doing so I think this application has crossed the line.
“I don’t consider that this committee has the mandate to dismiss such a large sum of what should be public money and I don’t think we should be put in the position to effectively rubber stamp what is potentially sharp practice.”
Developers are usually required to provide affordable housing and financial contributions for local infrastructure as a condition of receiving planning permission, but can reduce these contributions if they would mean a development was not financially viable.
This usually means developers can insist on a 20% profit from any scheme, but in this case the developers claimed they would only make 15% profit even with the reduced payment.
The scheme, originally approved in 2017, is now largely complete but has suffered from delays after the original building contractor went bust.
Committee chair Daren Veidman said he shared Cllr McCann’s frustration but was keen to emphasise that the council was not “giving money away”.
He said: “The money isn’t in the scheme anymore, is what we are being told.”
Although several councillors supported Cllr McCann’s comments, most concluded that planning laws meant they had little choice but to accept the reduced sum of £266,000.
Council officers also warned the committee that as there were no legal grounds to refuse planning permission, voting down the proposal risked the council not only losing the £266,000 on offer but also having to pay the developer’s legal costs if they successfully appealed to the planning inspectorate.
In response, Cllr McCann expressed frustration that the application had been brought before the committee in the first place.
He said: “If we are not able to have a reason to refuse, how can this have appeared on the agenda if there’s no choice?”
The committee voted to approve the proposals by 11 votes to three, with Cllrs Dodd, Dutton and McCann all voting against.
Words: Chris McKeon, Local Democracy Reporter
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