Melton ‘Cheese wedge’ homes refused

A CGI view of the proposed homes as seem across the meadow from the riverside end of the site at Mel

A CGI view of the proposed homes as seem across the meadow from the riverside end of the site at Melton Hill. Picture: HOOPERS - Credit: Archant

Controversial plans for 100 homes in Melton likened to “cheese wedges” by critics have been refused planning permission in the latest twist of the long-running saga.

Developers Active Urban Woodbridge Ltd lodged plans for 100 homes on the former Suffolk Coastal District Council offices in Melton Hill at the end of last year.

The proposals were narrowly given the backing of the council’s planning committee in April, with the final conditions delegated for approval to Philip Ridley, the council’s head of planning services.

But the developers opted to withdraw the application before the conditions were approved and submit a fresh one in order to present an amended application over the summer.

The plans remained the same, except for an application for Vacant Building Credit – a scheme to encourage applicants to redevelop empty buildings, and meant the number of affordable homes proposed were reduced from 32 to 15.

During Monday’s planning committee the plans were unanimously refused.

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Councillor Susan Harvey said: “On what was our own site we should be developing affordable housing at its full level.”

Planning officers said the length of time the buildings had been empty meant it was not eligible for the scheme, although David Hughes from Active Urban disagreed with the assessment.

Councillor Michael Gower said: “It’s only been vacant because it’s a complex site and I think this is another example of gaining [from the] planning system where a new bit of legislation for something completely different is being used to allow developers to get out of their responsibilities.”

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Mr Hughes said the Vacant Building Credit was not an available option at the time of the original application, and pointed to a lack of interest from registered providers of affordable housing being an issue.

He added: “Those registered providers are not coming forward with levels they were previously.

“Our viability issues would be resolved through the Vacant Building Credit. We didn’t wish to withdraw it but it would have meant the scheme would not have been delivered without that action being taken.”

Mr Hughes refused to be drawn on whether the firm will appeal the decision or submit a fresh application.

Opinion: A risky strategy backfired?

Withdrawing an application which only narrowly gained committee backing was always going to be a risky decision, but it is one which may have backfired for the Melton homes developers.

Of course, we don’t know how conversations between Mr Ridley and Active Urban were going on behind closed doors, but the fact that the committee could only back it by a casting vote in April must have provided warning signs.

In fairness, the developers had no other option if they wanted to reduce the number of affordable homes, but Monday’s decision now means they have no firm plans on the table.

At least the previous application, which would in all likelihood have been approved once the conditions were sorted would have delivered it some income even if the profit margin was much less than on an open-market property.

Uncertainty now surrounds the future of the plans, but for now locals can breathe a sigh of relief.

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