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Anger at attempt to cut affordable homes from Melton ‘cheese wedges’ proposal

PUBLISHED: 08:08 22 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:42 22 August 2018

Suffolk Coastal's former headquarters at Melton Hill, where the homes could be built Picture: SIMON PARKER

Suffolk Coastal's former headquarters at Melton Hill, where the homes could be built Picture: SIMON PARKER

Archant

Attempts to halve the number of affordable homes included in the redevelopment of a Suffolk council’s former headquarters have been met with anger.

An impression of what the front of the Melton Hill housing development could look like Picture: HOOPERS ARCHITECTS/AUWLAn impression of what the front of the Melton Hill housing development could look like Picture: HOOPERS ARCHITECTS/AUWL

Active Urban Woodbridge Ltd (AUWL), which is seeking to build 100 homes at Suffolk Coastal District Council’s old offices in Melton Hill, near Woodbridge, had withdrawn its application this month – nearly a year after being given provisional approval.

Since then, a revised application has been submitted, seeking to reduce the number of affordable homes in the development from 32 to 15 by claiming Vacant Building Credit (VBC) – a scheme introduced nationally to promote brownfield development.

AUWL’s application said it had “concerns about the scheme’s viability” – but these could be overcome by VBC.

People living in Woodbridge criticised the new application.

The bid had previously provoked opposition on the basis of its appearance, which some likened to “cheese wedges”, as well as the delays it has faced.

AUWL won the council contract to redevelop the site in 2016 and its application received provisional approval from SCDC’s planning committee in October 2017.

The subsequent delays, which related to difficulties finding a registered social provider to take on the affordable housing, led to calls for a fresh start on the deal.

Now, critics claim the project appears to be falling apart.

Woodbridge resident Barry Zins said the VBC claim showed AUWL was “trying everything” to make the it financially viable. He said he believed SCDC would reject the claim.

Woodbridge Society chairman Alan Vaughan claimed people in the town would be “extremely angry” if the VBC claim was agreed. He pointed to a file note lodged on the previous application by SCDC’s head of planning Philip Ridley, which claimed “VBC would not be applicable on this site”.

AUWL said it claimed for VBC due to the “lack of interest” from registered social landlords, as well as the scheme’s “challenging viability”.

“It looks forward to progressing the application in the coming weeks,” AUWL added.

SCDC said the application was open to consultation and people could comment by visiting its website.

Active Urban Woodbridge Ltd’s statement

The developers behind the proposals issued a statement explaining the application.

“Active Urban (Woodbridge) Ltd can confirm that it has submitted a fresh planning application for the development of the former Council offices at Melton Hill,” it said.

“This application has been lodged to enable the local authority to reconsider the proposal in light of a request now made that Vacant Building Credit should apply to the scheme.

“This credit was introduced by central government to give developers a financial credit for the amount of vacant building floorspace brought back into use or demolished, offset against affordable housing contributions. Active Urban has taken this step due to the lack of interest in any affordable housing stock from registered social landlords, as well as the challenging viability of the scheme. It looks forward to progressing the application in the coming weeks.”

What is vacant building credit?

Vacant building credit (VBC) is a national policy to provide an incentive for brownfield redevelopment.

According to Government planning guidance, developers should be offered a “financial credit” when the affordable housing contributions are calculated on developments that qualify.

VBC will not normally apply if the building in question has only been abandoned for the purpose of the re-development. The guidance also states VBC does not apply if the building is covered by an existing or recently expired planning permission for the same, or similar development.

“The policy is intended to incentivise brownfield development, including the reuse or redevelopment of empty and redundant buildings,” the advice states. “In considering how the vacant building credit should apply to a particular development, local planning authorities should have regard to the intention of national policy.”

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