Thurrock councillor quizzes developer motives

A LEADING Thurrock councillor has spoken of his concerns that housing developers are scaling down the size of applications to cynically avoid having to make contributions to the local community.

Cllr Brian Little, who chairs the Borough Council’s Planning, Transport, Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee and is a former vice chairman of the Planning Committee, spoke up last week as approval was given to a new homes scheme at Bentons Farm, Mollands Lane, South Ockendon.

The application was for a reduction in numbers to a planning permission granted earlier and while Cllr Little acknowledged the new scheme might have benefits for the development’s neighbours because of the reduction of size and the fact that the developers will be offering improved landscaping, he wasn’t happy.

Originally the scheme was for 11 houses on this site. The application was recommended for refusal by officers but approved at Committee on the basis that members considered that the applicant has demonstrated very special circumstances to allow the development of the site, contrary to normal green belt policy.

Of the 11 houses there was a provision that around a third would be ‘affordable’ homes as a requirement of planning permission. The applicants, Lorimer Developments, would also have had to make a contribution to local education needs.

However, the slightly smaller scheme means they can avoid those commitments.

Under questioning from Cllr Little, planning officer Jonathan Keen told the committee at last Thursday’s meeting: “It falls below the threshold for affordable housing and there was no need for education provision so there was no Section 106 contribution to be made on the site. There are different circumstances and we can’t insist on contributions.”

Cllr Little responded by saying: “It’s not very good is it? Maybe the cynic in me sees that it is convenient to go in for something and them amend it later on. The affordable housing part is something that we should be pushing for.

“Developers are looking to make profit, not assist us in making sure people have got a roof over their head. Though the developers may have spent some time making the nearby residents very happy, they haven’t made me happy.”

Cllr Tunde Ojetola also raised concerns about the fact that there was no contribution to local education needs, despite that fact it was likely the nine homes would doubtless have children that went to local schools.

He quizzed the education department’s policy that says that schemes under 10 homes do not need to make contributions.

Despite the concerns of those two councillors the scheme was granted approval, prompting committee chairman Cllr Terry Hipsey to voice a different opinion to Cllr Little’s fears, saying: “This is the second time this evening developers have come to us with smaller proposals. Maybe some of the stiff-tongued officers have said this is what the committee wants and developers have been taking notice of that.”

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