Last night’s Audley Avenue Plans Board

Needless to say the recorded vote showed recommendation for the application on party political lines. However, due to the number of residents and local groups who had previously objected to the application it has to go to the NPCU in Birmingham to see if the Secretary of State will call it in. We have sent the NRP presentation to the NPCU and urged that the Secretary of State exercises his discretion to call in the application. A copy will also go to our MP.

 

Here is the text referred to…

 

Could I first address the Issue of Affordable Housing……

 

1. As the Council’s planning officer’s report makes clear (P45), the current housing development strategy for Newport is wholly determined by the assessed need for affordable homes – and here we are predominantly talking of homes to rent (not buy) at affordable prices. (Quote ‘the need for provision of 35% affordable housing is paramount’ P 45)

 

2. The current Core Strategy (Policy CS1) requires that 22 affordable homes are provided annually, and that any housing development (over 15 units) should provide 35% of homes which are affordable (predominantly to rent). This generates the requirement to build 60 homes a year in Newport over the 10 years 2006-16, which as a result of a depressed housing market, both locally and nationally, has not been achieved to date (and nor has it been in Telford, where the rate of new house building over the period 2006-11, per head of population, has been marginally lower than in Newport – based on the Council’s own figures). As a result, the Council’s latest estimate of affordable housing need in Newport (2009), suggests that 124 affordable homes per year are now needed over the next 20 years, well beyond the current plan period of 2016, to address this shortfall. At 35% this would require a potential level of house building in Newport, beyond the current Development Plan period, of 360 homes per year, which has never been achieved in Newport, not even in the house building boom years of the 1990’s.

 

3. This is clearly untenable, particularly when the latest Government and independent economic forecasts suggest the UK will remain in a period of austerity for at least the next decade, which will result in a depressed housing market. The housing market in the end determines what gets built, not the amount of land with outstanding planning permissions. I would draw Members attention to the fact that the planning approval given over a year ago for 61 homes on Audley Rd, the former St Modwen’s Business Park next to Waitrose, has still no Section 106 agreement, and remains derelict.

 

4. This would suggest that the Council’s Affordable Housing Strategy for Newport is seriously flawed; it is unrealistic to expect private housing developments over the next 10 years to ever deliver 35% of homes for social renting on the back of Section 106 agreements which themselves are likely to be subject to downward revision in the light of the Government’s Growth & Infrastructure Bill which is now making its way through Parliament. Unless Government funds the public and not for profit sectors to once again build homes for social rent, the affordable housing crisis will never be addressed. Building more and more large scale housing developments, predominantly on greenfield sites, will never solve the problem of a lack of affordable housing to rent in Newport, or for that matter anywhere else.

 

Turning now specifically to housing need in Newport….

 

5. Clearly there is a need to provide a proper up to date Strategic Housing Market Assessment for Newport (and the Borough, given that the issue of affordability is wider than just Newport), which the officer’s report admits has still not yet been done despite large scale greenfield development applications being brought forward. We would therefore argue that, contrary to the planning officer’s report, any decision made now on Audley Avenue (and presumably eventually housing at Station Rd), is clearly premature, on the basis that, and I quote from P 45 of the officer’s report ‘at this stage the LPA is not in a position of identifying a revised policy position on the basis of revised evidence of need’… and …. ‘in the absence of a readily available evidenced alternative strategy for Newport continuation of this target (60 dwellings per year) is deemed to be the most appropriate option in order to deliver anywhere near the level of affordable housing required’.

 

Turning now to the issue of the level of house building in Newport beyond the current plan period of 2016…..

 

6. The officer’s report suggests (P 44) that because the development of the new Local Plan for the period beyond 2016 (Shaping Places) is only in its relative infancy, a decision made now to approve Audley Avenue (and potentially Station Rd) cannot be judged to be premature. This is surely fallacious. Without an approved Local Development Plan in place beyond 2016, decisions made now on large scale greenfield sites, when the bulk of house building will take place post-2016, are clearly premature and cannot be approved on the basis that that they represent sustainable development as set out in the NPPF. In fact, the Inspector’s Report on the Core Strategy Examination in 2007 raised concerns that the proposed allocation of two large greenfield sites in Newport prior to 2016 would result in in-migration from outside Newport and the Rural area, thus contrary to the stated policy of concentrating growth on Telford, thus making the Core Strategy unsound.

 

7. As your officer’s report identifies (p 44), the plan period relating to the Council’s current Core Strategy was reduced by the Inspector at the public inquiry (in 2007) from 2021 to 2016 on the basis that the Strategy ‘did not provide adequately, or with the necessary flexibility, for new housing development’. The Inspector acknowledged that this was ‘a highly unusual course of action’ in unilaterally reducing the plan period for the Strategy and also identified serious concerns as to the proposals for Newport, and in particular the lack of evidence to support the level of house building planned for Newport. However, as I have already suggested, a proper Strategic Housing Market Assessment for Newport has still not been done, and so this would suggest that any decision made now on Audley Avenue is indeed premature. This is not a case of a revised Local Plan being far from completion, where a decision now on Audley Avenue could arguably be regarded as not premature, as your officer’s report suggests, but rather this is a situation where an approved Core Strategy is in place but which has been identified, somewhat uniquely, as being unsound beyond the plan period of 2016.

To conclude…….

 

8. I would therefore suggest that your officer’s report is not robust and that its logic regarding the issues of prematurity and affordability should be questioned. As we have previously seen in the case of the report to Plans Board in April (25th) regarding the Station Rd superstore application (TWC/2011/0916), there were a number of instances where, according to the Inspector’s report on the Audley Avenue foodstore Public Inquiry, Plans Board were misled on at least three important matters, and subsequently the Secretary of State has now found (5th October) that the Council’s August 2011 screening opinion on the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed Station Rd superstore development was incorrect. These short comings have now resulted in that application having to be brought back to Plans Board at the end of this month, in advance of its examination at a Public Inquiry, requested by the Sec. of State in January next year.

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