Council chiefs unite to deliver stark warning to developers

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ANOTHER North Yorkshire council leader has warned developers they will not be able to shirk affordable homes requirements despite the current state of the housing market.

Coun James Alexander, the leader of York Council, has delivered his message ahead of an application for an extension of planning permission by a developer today for the redevelopment of a 19 acre brownfield site on Water Lane, Clifton Moor in York.

The original application for the site was granted in 2008, provided 38 per cent of homes built on it were classed as affordable.

Despite the current affordable homes crisis across the city and North Yorkshire as a whole, York Council has reduced this requirement for urban brown field sites to 25 per cent to take into account the pressures during the recession.

However the latest application, which is recommended for refusal by planning officers, contends that it would now not be viable to create any affordable homes on the site despite the value of the land rising by almost £1m.

Coun Alexander said: “I raised concerns about this development in the past.

“The developer agreed to a 38 per cent level of affordable housing when the original application was made, yet despite land banking the site in order to see it increase in value, is now saying it wants zero affordable housing, on the grounds of financial viability.

“We have an affordable housing crisis in York, and I’m keen to see land that could have houses on it not being banked in the hope of higher financial gain in the future.

“It’s over three years since this application was made, and it’s high time this development, on its agreed terms, got underway.”

Coun Alexander’s comments echo those made by Richmondshire District Council leader John Blackie, earlier this month, who also spoke out against developers trying to reduce affordable homes requirements.

The number of affordable housing completions has plunged during the housing slump from the 2007 recession, with housing associations now unable to afford to buy land to develop.

The National Housing Federation, which represents 1,200 housing associations across England, released its annual Home Truths report last month, warning that house prices have risen by 136 per cent in Yorkshire in the past decade.

In North Yorkshire, which is the region’s most desirable location, the average cost of a home is £223,065, while the average wage is less than £20,000. The problem is most severe in the “Golden Triangle” between York, Harrogate and Leeds, and in Richmondshire and Ryedale.

Despite the problems, York Council has recently moved to reduce the affordable housing targets for rural sites in York between two and 15 homes in order to help developers who build houses in smaller schemes.

The target has been lowered from 50 percent to 25 percent on rural sites of 10 homes or more and to 20 percent on sites of five to ten.

Justifying the change, Coun Dave Merrett, cabinet member for city strategy at York Council, said: “Clearly it’s inconsistent to have a 50 per cent target on rural sites below 15 homes and a 25 per cent target on sites above 15 homes.

“We’ve listened to developers and it makes sense to remove this anomaly for rural areas below 15 homes. We want to help developers not hinder them, whilst still achieving an element of affordable housing.“

House prices in Yorkshire have risen faster than in any other region and almost four times faster than regional incomes in the past decade.

According to the National Housing Federation, only 8,950 new homes in the private and social sectors were built in the region in 2010/11.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has said that with its £4.5bn Affordable Homes programme, up to 370,000 new homes will be delivered nationally over the next four years.