Babergh: Viability of housing scheme questioned

Peter Clifford

Peter Clifford - Credit: Archant

A GOVERNMENT inspector has questioned the viability of a major 1050-home scheme after the developer pulled out.

Redrow Homes was working with Suffolk County Council to develop 25ha of residential land, 24ha of employment land and 74ha for community facilities at the Chilton Woods site on the outskirts of Sudbury. It is the biggest planned development in the Babergh area.

The county council, which own 60% of the site, discovered in January that Redrow had withdrawn from the scheme, but other stakeholder groups were only informed last Friday.

At an inquiry into Babergh’s Core Strategy yesterday, which focused on the strategic land allocation for Chilton Woods, Government planning inspector Phillip Ware said all “evidence” for the viability of the scheme had disappeared with Redrow.

Although the company has declined to comment on its decision to pull out, county council representative Martyn Jones said Chilton Woods was not a scheme that Redrow was prepared to continue to “pour money into” because it was not viable in its current form.

Last year, Redrow queried costs for installing electricity to the site, which were initially estimated at £3million but rose to £13million for a new substation and undergrounding of cables.

Mr Jones also spoke of the costs associated with landscaping, transport, education, affordable housing and employment land, which all presented “challenges” to a developer but provided little financial gain.

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He said: “Redrow haven’t given the county chapter and verse about why they have left but we know they have been going through a number of strategic changes and have been reviewing several of their sites.

“They have concluded that they are not prepared to lock up the capital it would take over the time period necessary to see Chilton Woods development through to its conclusion.”

Plans for the site, which stretches from behind the Tesco superstore to the edge of Waldingfield Road, first emerged in 1995. The county formed an agreement with the developer Ashwells in 2003, but after the company ran into financial difficulties in 2009, Redrow bought their share capital in November 2010.

Speaking at the inquiry, Mr Ware said: “I have to go on the information before me to ascertain if this allocation is effective and deliverable. The developer has looked internally at its position and has concluded that this is not a scheme that they want to go ahead with. Unfortunately, most of the evidence of viability has disappeared with Redrow Homes.”

Yesterday, the county council put forward a list of proposed amendments to the scheme to make it more “flexible”. However, parish and town councillors at the hearing feared the county was trying to cut down the scale of community facilities and increase the housing allocation to make the scheme more attractive to a new developer. They also criticised the authority for not giving them enough time to consider the proposed changes before the inquiry.

Jan Osborne, representing the town council, said: “The impact for Sudbury if this scheme doesn’t go ahead will be huge because the Draft Core Strategy puts forward a 60% growth for Sudbury. I can’t think of any other sites in Sudbury that could accommodate that growth.”

Peter Clifford, chairman of Chilton Parish Council, added: “If it doesn’t go ahead, it will be a serious problem for the area in terms of economic growth. There is also a a grave danger of wrecking community involvement and stopping people from wanting to get on board at a later stage.”

Rich Cooke, Babergh’s corporate manager for spatial planning policy said there would be several issues if Chilton Woods failed to materialise.

“It wouldn’t be terminal for the whole district if the development fell through, but it would be very damaging for Sudbury and Great Cornard. In terms of housing delivery for the whole district, it would cause a significant problem,” he added.

Mr Ware will make a final decision about the future of Chilton Woods after the series of Core Strategy examinations has finished. His findings will be released in a report later this year.