"Crocodile tears" developer gets downgraded affordable housing bid rejected by Chorley Council

A housebuilder has been accused of shedding “crocodile tears” over the loss of construction jobs if it were to be refused planning permission for a development in Chorley.

Friday, 26th June 2020, 6:36 pm
Updated Friday, 26th June 2020, 7:44 pm

It is three years since Taylor Wimpey was told that it could build 201 homes on land off Lower Burgh Way in the south of the borough.

However, the permission was granted subject to an agreement over the number of properties classed as affordable to be included on the site – and negotiations between the company and Chorley Council have since stalled.

Thirty-five affordable homes were originally proposed by Taylor Wimpey back in March 2019, but the developer has since sought to reopen discussions with town hall planners. The firm submitted a revised viability assessment last September which claims that it can only afford to allocate a maximum of 16 plots for social rented and shared ownership homes.

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Land off Lower Burgh Way, Chorley (image: Google)

A revised application submitted on that basis has now been rejected by Chorley Council’s planning committee.

Katie Howarth, a planning agent representing the housebuilder, told committee members that Taylor Wimpey had spent the past 10 months making “every effort to engage with the council”.

“However, officers are unwilling to accept that the terms of [an earlier] draft viability assessment would render the development unviable.

“[Approval of the application] would retain the construction jobs on the adjacent [Taylor Wimpey] site site which would be lost if the application is delayed by the planning appeal process,” Ms. Howarth added.

However, committee member Alan Whittaker said that he was “a little bit cross with the crocodile tears” from the firm.

“This multi-million pound company is insulting our intelligence,” he said.

Meanwhile, a claim that “errors in judgement” in its previous application had caused the company to have to rethink its affordable housing offer attracted scorn.

“I was really impressed with this application when it came through. But if I’d made an error of judgement [in business], I wouldn’t have turned round and said I’m going to give you half the goods we actually agreed to,” said Cllr Chris France.

Fellow committee member Alistair Morwood, added: “If it’s not viable, don’t build it.”

Papers presented to the meeting highlighted that Taylor Wimpey was claiming a near-24 percent increase in build costs on the development – totalling £3.9m – in the space of two years. The council’s planning report stated that the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors had calculated industry-wide construction cost inflation of 6.3 percent over that period.

The firm also outlined a £1.1m reduction in land value, because of “abnormal, site-specific infrastructure costs”.

Separately, officers stated that any purchasing incentives offered by Taylor Wimpey on its neighbouring development should not be factored in to the so-called “overage threshold” at which the company would have to make additional payments.

But Ms. Howarth said that there were “inaccuracies and misrepresentations” in the council report presented to the committee.

She added: ”The applicant has made a robust offer of an overage that will provide a financial uplift to the council, should revenues improve in the future.”

In a statement issued after the meeting, a spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey Manchester said: “We are currently building out an adjacent site under a separate planning permission and are very disappointed that this latest application for the next phase has been refused, especially as the proposals would provide more than £1.7m in community infrastructure levy contributions to the council and in excess of £100,000 in section 106 contributions for local green space and allotment improvements.

“The delay to this site coming forward also means that we are not able to transition from building out our adjacent scheme onto this site, which will result in the loss of construction jobs locally.

“Our proposals wholly accord with Planning Practice Guidance and we’ve supplied comprehensive and robust evidence to the council to demonstrate that it is simply not viable to allocate 30% of the dwellings for affordable rent, as well as providing nearly £2m in financial contributions.

“With the UK’s ongoing housing crisis and the need to build new homes, we’re naturally disheartened and are now considering whether to appeal the decision.”