Last-minute changes to a key housing blueprint for Wrexham will allow developers to escape a requirement to deliver hundreds of affordable homes, it’s been claimed.
Opposition councillors have raised serious concerns after a small group of four independent and Conservative members made the decision, which equates to a 60 per cent reduction to the original obligation within Wrexham Council’s Local Development Plan (LDP).
Plaid Cymru councillors say the move will result in almost 800 fewer lower priced properties being built across the county, which they said could benefit housebuilders to the tune of millions of pounds.
The remaining 48 community leaders on the local authority were only notified about it yesterday, despite the final hearing to scrutinise the plan being scheduled for this Friday.
The alterations have partly been made as a result of a viability assessment put forward by district valuers regarding two key housing sites on Ruthin Road and Cefn Road in the town, where more than 3,000 houses could be created.
Cllr Carrie Harper, who represents the Queensway area of Caia Park, has slammed the reduction of the affordable requirement for both areas to just ten per cent, which means more than 500 fewer homes will be delivered.
She said: “Reducing the numbers of affordable homes allocated seriously jeopardises the plan as a whole and the decision seems to have been made as a result of developers putting pressure on officers and councillors.
“The two key strategic sites on Ruthin Road and Cefn Road, that could provide almost 3,000 new homes between them, were due to have a 30 per cent affordable housing element.
“But this new proposal – which is based on how much developers should be able to profit from such plans – now means there will only be ten per cent affordable homes on these huge new developments.
“That’s 500 fewer affordable homes. Why bother to have a long and detailed planning process if the goalposts can be moved at the very last minute?”
Plaid Cymru councillors have now submitted a complaint to the council’s monitoring officer over the lack of notice given.
They have also voiced disappointment after being told it was too late for them to speak about the alterations at a public examination being held by planning inspectors tomorrow.
Over the plan period which runs until 2028, the council said a total of 505 affordable houses are likely to be delivered from all sites following the changes, compared to the original expectation of 1,283.
The authority’s chief planning officer said he regretted the reduction, but added it was made in response to queries raised directly by the inspectors.
Lawrence Isted also defended the process used to make the decision, which he said was agreed by councillors in 2018.
He said: “The council’s process for consulting members on changes to the LDP during the Examination in Public was agreed by council in 2018.
“In response to queries raised by the inspectors who are examining the LDP as to the viability of the housing sites and affordable housing I consequently consulted those members specified in the approved scheme of delegation on 11 September and 4 October and informed all the other Members of the outcome of that consultation on 3 and 8 October 2019.
“Whilst any reduction in affordable housing is to be regretted the council must use the most up to date evidence available when presenting its case to the inspectors who are examining the LDP.
“The aspirations that we have for affordable housing must actually be deliverable and the LDP will have to adapt to reflect evidence of viability as well as of need.
“This matter will be discussed in full in the hearing scheduled for tomorrow after which it will be for the independent Inspectors to decide how the plan is taken forward.”
Cllr Marc Jones told us he had hoped to address the LDP session tomorrow, however has been told that is not possible as such room is given to people who made objections in the LDP during the public consultation on the Deposit LDP.
As a result Cllr Jones has circulated his intended statement, with it copied below:
“As a member of the Planning Policy Panel and former vice-chair of the planning committee, I hadn’t planned on speaking at the examination as I believed I’d had my say on the LDP over two years.
However, on Tuesday morning, councillors were informed that the affordable housing allocation within the LDP was being altered drastically. The number of affordable houses was, after a new viability study commissioned by the council’s officers, dropping by 60%.
This was approved by a small group of senior officers and just four senior councillors with no consultation with the wider community or councillors. As we speak we are seeking clarity as to why this change is being proposed at this late stage. Has the inspector questioned the affordable housing levels?
Losing nearly 800 affordable homes in the LDP is a significant and material change and it has been introduced at the very last minute. It feels as if the goalposts have been moved after the game has started.
In my view, this risks making the plan unsound.
That’s why I’ve come here today – to voice my concern and to explain that councillors on the Planning Policy Panel are very unhappy that this new and material change has been introduced at such short notice.
Reducing the number of affordable homes could mean an £45,000 extra for developers on an average £150,000 home. This last-minute change is therefore potentially worth tens of millions of pounds to the housing developers. It will not help local people unable to afford market housing and risks undermining the council’s affordable housing strategy.
In conclusion, I have to ask in whose interest this change has been made and why? Making such a significant change at the very last minute leaves me and other councillors with the unfortunate impression that this is a stitch-up and undermines the long process we undertook to develop the LDP for the good of Wrexham.”
More from the LDP session tomorrow…
Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter / Wrexham.com
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