COUNCILLORS have given the green light to a new housing estate in Lakeside despite expressing concerns the developer is not going to provide any affordable housing – and a committee member asking why the cost of restoring contaminated land had not been factored into the original sale price of the land.
The proposal for 256 homes on land to the south of West Thurrock Way in the west of the borough will see the demolition of the former Gala bingo building and adjacent restaurants including Frankie and Bennies and KFC.
The site will be developed by Bellway, who are currently building on an adjacent site. Agent Kieran Wheeler told councillors: “The council’s core strategy recognises the Lakeside basin as a residential development area and this will deliver 242 homes. The site is contaminated and this remediation brings more than £6 million in additional costs. These costs have a significant impact on the viability of the site and it cannot support affordable housing.“
That sparked considerable debate.
Cllr Terry Piccolo was clearly worried that too many developers are avoiding having to produce affordable homes, saying: “Surely the cost of 20 affordable homes is quite miniscule in terms of the size of the development” and he questioned the report of the consultants who had prepared the viability report, given that house prices might rise due to a ‘boom’.
Cllr Angela Lawrence was also clearly upset at the lack of affordable housing and said while she recognised issues relating to contamination on the site, more should have been done in advance before the plan was drawn up without an affordable homes quota.
She expressed concern that the agent representing developers wasn’t sure about what the developers would be doing, saying: “I’m not happy, I heard from the agent, ‘I would like’ and ‘we hope’. He is not sure and this should be deferred. However only Cllr Sue Shinnock supported her.
The representative for the Council for Protection of Rural England, Steve Taylor, appeared to share Cllr Lawrence’s concerns and he asked if the situation on the site could be reviewed on its completion in case viability factors had changed.
However, senior planner Matthew Gallagher told him there would be a series of ‘triggers’ for reviews that might come into play, but he did not think they would apply in this scheme because it wasn’t that large.
Mr Taylor remained somewhat cynical about Bellway’s position and believed the cost of remediation should have been factored into the purchase price for the land. He told the meeting: “This is all relative to how much the site was sold for in the first place.
“They would have known it was a former industrial site and of the contamination and therefore that should have been included in negotiations when agreeing a price to buy the site.”
Cllr Gerard Rice was more concerned about the future requirements of residents, saying: “Obviously this is a lot of homes which we do need. As the government wishes to end the sale of petrol and diesel-engined cars, and electric cars are the way forward as they are not providing affordable homes, at the very least we need to see charging points for electric cars so people are encouraged down that road.
Taking an overview of the scheme, committee chair Cllr Tom Kelly said: “While I am happy to approve the application, there are certain elements I don’t like, including the parking even through it is well within our parking standards.
“The application raises concerns in terms of affordable housing but we are told all the money has been spent. Off the top of my head I would say don’t build there then in the first place, is it wise? We need to get stuck in to details like this as we go forward with our local plan.”
Cllr Rice intervened again to say: “We are told that £6m of remediation work is required and whether we like it or not, if we insist on affordable homes on this site then no homes would be built. We are in a Catch 22 situation so I am mindful to support it.”
Cllr Andrew Jeffries said: “While affordable housing would be nice, with all the work they have to do it would not be economically viable and we would be left with a brownfield site that would not be developed.
Cllr Terry Piccolo added: “I understand the feelings regarding contributions but we need to look at building on this brownfield site as it will relieve the need for greenbelt land to be developed elsewhere, so there is a balance.”
The application was approved – with the condition proposed by Cllr Rice that electric charging places be provided.