Framlingham: Town council criticise Eric Pickles’ response over Hopkins Homes affordable housing concerns

The plot of land in Station Road, Framlingham.

The plot of land in Station Road, Framlingham. - Credit: Archant

Suffolk councillors have condemned a government minister’s alleged failure to address their calls for support over a controversial housing matter.

Framlingham Town Council wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles earlier this year regarding Hopkins Homes’ request to drop its affordable housing from a proposed development in the town.

Councillors had opposed the application to allow the 141-home development on land off Station Road to proceed without the 47 affordable homes initially agreed. Suffolk Coastal District Council also opposed the move and rejected the developer’s request in February.

The town council’s letter called on Mr Pickles to uphold his own planning guidelines in respect to this case.

The guidelines state authorities are not obliged to “provide the maximum possible return for landowners and developers” when making their planning decisions.

Last week, however, months after the letter was sent to Mr Pickles, the Government’s Planning Inspectorate approved the appeal against SCDC’s rejection, on the grounds that it would not have been financially viable to proceed with the affordable housing element.

Suffolk Coastal District Council expressed its disappointment with the decision “as there is a pressing need for affordable housing in this area”.

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The town council was also disappointed, given its previous calls for assurances from Mr Pickles that developers’ profits would not form the basis of such decisions.

Town clerk Eileen Coe said the councillors were angered by the “condescending tone” of the reply, sent on Mr Pickles’ behalf, which took many weeks to arrive and failed to address the main issues.

“It was felt that the response received from William Strong on behalf of the secretary of state was unsatisfactory in that it implies that the town council doesn’t understand about planning policies.

“Also it appeared to be a standard response and does not answer or even address any of the questions raised,” she said.

Responding to the complaints, a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Our letter addressed the key issues raised by the council and explained how Government has abolished regional strategies and their top down targets, giving communities the opportunity to shape development through neighbourhood plans.

“More than 1,000 communities have so far taken advantage of these powers. National policy also clearly asks authorities to prioritise development on brownfield sites.

“The department has a quasi-judicial role and therefore we cannot comment on specific planning cases.”

Mrs Coe said that Framlingham Town Council has now approached its MP Dr Dan Poulter to seek advice over the affordable housing matter.