A SITE in a historic Suffolk tourist village earmarked for a 51-home development was offered for sale at three times its market value to deter commercial developers, residents have claimed.

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Plans to develop the former Fleetwood Caravan factory site in the heart of Long Melford’s conservation area have been criticised by villagers who set up a neighbourhood group, collected 850 signatures on a petition and sent 250 letters to Babergh District Council objecting to the development.

Now group member Vivian Woodward has claimed that a marketing report for the site commissioned by Barratt Homes – a parent company of David Wilson Homes which has submitted the housing plans – over-valued the land and made it “unviable” for a commercial developer.

One of the protestors’ arguments against the development is that the land should be retained for commercial or industrial use to create employment in the village. Suffolk County Council highways department has already recommended the application be refused because of the “inadequate and dangerous” access to the site and increased demand for parking on the high street.

Mr Woodward said: “The re-zoning of the land from industrial/commercial to residential purposes lies at the heart of this issue. The derelict buildings were advertised for industrial/commercial use at a cost of £1.5 million, a price appropriate for residential but not industrial development.”

According to Mr Woodward, the Land Registry shows that Fleetwood Caravans purchased the site in 2003 for £435,000.

He added: “Official UK government statistics on the increased cost of constructing industrial/commercial buildings shows that the current market value in 2012 should be no more than £550,000, particularly since the site is known to be contaminated by industrial use.

“The report was unquestioningly accepted by the Babergh planners in September 2012, but if this is held to be valid it means that any residential builder can take an option on an industrial site, advertise it at a price set high enough to deter industrial use and therefore force a change in land use from industrial to residential.”

A spokesman for David Wilson Homes defended the report, which he said was carried out at Babergh’s request by “independent” consultants, and was verified and accepted by the district authority.

According to Babergh’s valuation office, the rateable value of the site in 2010 was £135,250. Babergh was not available yesterday to comment on how it arrived at the £1.5million valuation.

The current consultation period for the housing plans is due to expire on January 2, but a date for determination has not been set.

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