The report on pages 203 – 240 of the Agenda was presented by Chris Purvis.
The Chair mentioned that he had seen a news article with a headline of ‘More Homes, Less Money for the Community and Fewer Affordable Dwellings’ which was in relation to this application. Chris Purvis answered that the article was factually incorrect as there was an existing outline planning permission and s106 that required contributions as part of a tariff approach. There was a viability assessment on this application and it was identified that the figures were not similar to the required contributions in the existing s106. Phase five had identified one block of flats for affordable housing which was 10%, the same as earlier phases within the Arisdale development due to the site being brownfield land and a former commercial use. The 31 houses that would have been on this site, would not have been for affordable housing and through a viability assessment, the current proposal offered 6% of the apartments for affordable housing. Although there were more homes proposed resulting in a higher density development, the plans had been carefully designed in terms of layout and scale to avoid overdevelopment. He went on to say that the proposal would make the best use and most efficient use of the land and along with other considerations mentioned, the scheme was considered acceptable.
Councillor Rice expressed disappointment at there being 6% affordable housing as he thought that an increased density should give at least 25% affordable housing if 35% was not possible. He felt the proposal offered no benefit to the community. Chris Purvis explained that if brownfield sites did not meet affordable housing policy then the policy allows for a viability assessment to be provided by the applicant. The viability assessment had been assessed by an independent reviewer and during the application process further work on the viability position was undertaken by the viability consultants for the applicant and the Council. The independent viability consulted advised the Council that 6% affordable housing was the most affordable housing that could be offered. He went on to say that earlier phases of the Arisdale development had only 10% and that the original outline planning permission had a clause in the s106 that allowed for viability testing.
The Vice-Chair queried whether an independent reviewer had ever disagreed with a viability assessment. He also questioned whether the Applicant could invest in improving the road at the top of Arisdale Avenue as it had deteriorated with the use of heavy vehicles using that road. He also said that if the development was approved, the road would further deteriorate with the extra movement of vehicles for the site development. Chris Purvis answered that independent reviewers had disagreed with viability assessments on sites in the past. This application’s viability assessment had required additional work from the Applicant through the application process to address certain points including land values. He said that land values in Thurrock were relatively low which caused difficulties in making schemes viable and achieving policy compliant levels of affordable housing amongst other issues. Regarding road improvement in Arisdale Avenue, he said that the viability assessment showed that there was no money available for anything else other than the 6% affordable housing and the other contributions detailed in the report. Julian Howes explained that as part of the original outline planning permission, a contribution was given for the improvement of the highway along Arisdale Avenue. A part of the road on Arisdale Avenue from just east of Annifer Way to Avontar Road had been improved and with the remaining funds, it would be used to improve the remaining footways; providing a properly formulated cycleway on both sides of Arisdale Avenue up to the extent of the development; and increasing kerb heights to prevent lorries parking on the kerbs. A sufficient amount would be left over that would also be for resurfacing the carriageway on the frontage of the Bellway development but not the full extent of the St Modwen development. The St Modwen development currently has a section 278 in progress for those improvements.
Councillor Lawrence expressed her disappointment in the loss of 31 semi-detached homes for families which were replaced with flats. Homes were needed for families and not flats. She felt the development site had been a long process and that at the last stage, plans were changed. She said that cycle lanes were needed for the damaged road but with all the extra cars, what would be used here instead.
Steve Taylor commented that developers should work out costs before an application was made. He guessed that developers assumed a 30% profit to be made from the development and if this was not possible, it was affordable housing to be reduced first. He commented that the developer would not lose out but it was the Local Planning Authority that did not benefit as much. He also pointed out the affordable housing was always reduced and developers were being paid large bonuses. Chris Purvis explained that a lot of factors were considered, assessed and weighed up in a viability assessment which was in-depth and required an independent surveyor to advise the Council. There was guidance on a reasonable return of 20% for the developer and this scheme was less than that.
Councillor Potter agreed with Steve Taylor and said that developers prioritised profit first and affordability at the bottom of their list. He went on to say that the road was not just damaged, it was also muddy and he asked if the Council could require the developers to wash the wheels of their vehicles or clean the road several times a day. Chris Purvis answered that a construction environmental management plan would have been included in planning conditions in the original outline planning permission. Julian Howes added that the Highways Team regularly visited the site and had requested that more wheel washing to be undertaken. However, the main mud came from the Rural Arisings site which was outside the Council’s remit but the team had been over to the site to ask them to increase their wheel washing as well as washing along Arisdale Avenue.
A speaker statement in support of the application was heard from Owain Williams, Agent.
Members were against the application and felt that 6% affordable housing was not enough. It was said that homes were needed, not flats. Councillor Rice proposed that the application be deferred to enable Officers to seek more than 6% affordable housing from the Applicant. The Vice-Chair was minded to reject the application so that the Applicant could put forward a better proposal that would be of use to the community. Leigh Nicholson advised Members to exercise caution on refusing the application on the lack of affordable housing as the viability assessment had shown that this was not possible so it would be difficult for the Council to defend Members’ decision. He noted a proposal for deferral and said that this would be a positive solution and the decision could be reconsidered at the next Committee meeting.
The Chair commented that there were other reasons to consider for refusing the application which was parking standards as the proposal was below the Council’s parking standards. He said density was also a concern as there were a lot of homes in Ockendon.
Members discussed deferring the application to enable developers to reconsider what they could put on the site. It was noted that the site was near Ockendon train station and demand for flats would decrease as there would be less commuters due to the changing work practices. Homes with garden spaces were needed and some Members thought the original plan for the site was better. The Vice-Chair highlighted that ‘sensible changes’ were expected to come back to Committee if the application was deferred. He said that a rejection would be based on concerns on the density and that the current plan was out of touch with what the local community actually needed. Councillor Lawrence felt that the original plan of 31 semi-detached houses should be brought back. Chris Purvis advised Members that the original planning permission enabled developers to build the 31 houses regardless of the outcome of this application as the original planning permission was still live.
Councillor Rice proposed the motion to defer the application and was seconded by the Chair. The reasons given were:
FOR: (6) Councillors Tom Kelly, Colin Churchman, David Potter, Gerard Rice, Sue Sammons and Sue Shinnick.
AGAINST: (3) Councillors Mike Fletcher, Angela Lawrence and Gary Byrne.