Developer does not have to build any affordable homes - after council planning blunder
- Credit: KATE WOLSTENHOLME
A council’s planning blunder has cost taxpayers thousands of pounds and means a developer does not have to build any affordable homes at a new estate.
North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) gave Norfolk Homes permission in 2012 to build 85 houses off Cley Road in Holt.
It was on the condition that almost half of the homes, 45pc, had to be classed as “affordable”.
The developer later applied to NNDC in 2013 and 2015 to make minor changes to the original planning application.
The council gave it permission, but on those two occasions it did not include the need to build any affordable homes or pay a developer contribution, known as Section 106 money.
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The council later said the Section 106 agreement from 2012 still applied to the new planning applications, but did not make any mention of that in those newer applications.
Sheringham-based Norfolk Homes then told the council in 2018 it was going to build under the 2015 permission, meaning it did not have to provide any affordable homes.
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The council said it could not do that so Norfolk Homes took it to the High Court in July and won the case.
The council argued: “Norfolk Homes should not be able to avoid important affordable housing obligations because it obtained minor variations to the conditions on the permission.”
But Justice David Holgate said the council’s argument fell at the “first hurdle” as it had granted Norfolk Homes permission in 2013 and 2015 without including the Section 106 agreement.
“Although the council’s arguments were presented forcefully and attractively, they face a series of insuperable problems,” Justice Holgate said.
The council also has to pay Norfolk Homes’ £30,000 legal costs.
A council spokesman said it was “very concerned” about the judgement because it overrode a legal agreement which the council said had been “signed in good faith to deliver affordable housing”.
It said it was now investigating what had gone wrong with its “historic working practices” and a report would be given to its chief executive and members in the next six weeks.
The spokesman said: “The council accepts the judgement but considers that it was appropriate to challenge the developer on this point of law; given the significant importance attached to delivery of local homes for local need.”
They added that the planning department’s working methods had changed since 2015 to make sure that planning applications did have to include affordable housing.
They also said they would try to make up the shortfall in affordable housing from this development at other sites.
James Nicholls, commercial director at Norfolk Homes, said the company may still build some affordable homes at the site, but would work it out with the council.
Norfolk Homes paid just under £105,000 in 2017 to Holt Town Council for car parking, community centre and play facilities, as part of the Section 106 agreement and Mr Nicholls said they would not be asking for that money back.
He added: “We are committed to continue working in North Norfolk in conjunction with both the district council and the town/parish councils of the villages and towns we develop in to deliver much needed private/affordable houses, infrastructure and amenities for the local people and communities.”
What is an affordable home?
Developers are required to make a certain percentage of homes they build “affordable”. The exact number varies from application to application. Each council has a target percentage for affordable homes. In north Norfolk, for example, it is 45pc, but the actual number is often revised down.
But what does affordable mean? There is no set price of what makes a home “affordable”.
It just has to be at below the market price and be for households who cannot afford to buy or rent on the open market. The properties are often owned and managed by housing associations and includes rented.