Village loses affordable homes after council blunder

A village in North Devon has lost its affordable housing due to a council mistake.

Alex Davis www.devonlive.com 

Planning permission for Lower Broad Park, in West Down, Ilfracombe, was approved in January 2016 and was intended to provide five affordable homes for local people. Despite this, residents were told last year that this requirement would no longer be fulfilled.

Stewart Bryant, former landowner of what is now Lower Broad Park, has lived in West Down, Ilfracombe all his life and grew up himself in council housing provided by the village. Stewart read a speech to the Planning Committee in 2016 highlighting his intention to provide five affordable homes where local people could grow the community, resulting in the addition of a Section 106 requirement to the application.

The Section 106 attached to the planning permission created the legal requirement of five affordable homes within the new development, which could only be rented to tenants with an existing tie to the village. In addition, the application promised financial contributions to the community to be used to make improvements to the village hall, local primary school and community field.

In November 2017, Acorn Developments submitted applications for a drainage ditch, followed by an application to amend design and layout in August 2018.When signing off these amendments, North Devon District Council failed to carry over the Section 106 requirement across to the new application, due to oversight by an officer.

Stewart says the council’s lack of monitoring throughout the development has left his vision for the site in tatters.

He said: “The processes North Devon District have in place are not fit for purpose. With the Section 106 agreement, they should have monitored the site but they didn’t. They let this drift by.”

“This is such a lovely, working community here and that Section 106 was really valuable to this community. This was our own opportunity to get some affordable housing for local people and to have that torn away from us on the 11th hour was a huge blow to everyone.”

“We all make mistakes but I feel the council should stand up and make it public that they made a mistake. I doubt we’ll get another opportunity to provide new homes here for the next 30 years and I think they are now trying to sweep this under the carpet.”

The properties first appeared on Devon Home Choice in September 2019. After being told they would be moved in by Christmas, prospective local tenants were put on hold until Spring 2020, before being told a change of tenure removed the social housing requirement.

Many of these prospective tenants had already moved out of their homes and were on standby in temporary holiday accommodation.

According to the report, the council did not become aware of the error until March 2020, when Acorn Homes contacted them to state that acting on legal advice, they believed the site was no longer bound to S106 restrictions.

North Devon District Council and Acorn Homes have now agreed that one affordable house will now be sold and a payment of £106,500 is to be made for community projects.

In a report to the Planning Committee on December 9 2020, former Head of Place Michael Tichford stated: “A deed of variation should have been produced to modify the S106 agreement so that it related to the consent as amended by the subsequent applications. Unfortunately, this was not done, due to an oversight.”

Despite acknowledgement for the error, Stewart claimed many of the emails sent by residents and the Parish Council have been ignored.

A spokesperson for North Devon Council said: “It is confirmed that an error was made in relation to application 60385 which was an application for the erection of 17 dwellings on land adjacent to Pearldean, West Down, now known as Lower Broad Park.

“The error was that the terms of a section 106 agreement negotiated in relation to an earlier application on the site were not carried forward to this application. Subsequently, the developer, Acorn Homes, also argued that the level of benefits secured via the agreement could not be achieved through the development.

“North Devon Council (NDC) and Acorn Homes did not agree on the legal effect of the error but a compromise was reached whereby some of the benefits that had previously been agreed would still be provided. In particular, one unit of affordable housing and financial contributions totally £106,500 were to be provided.

“Those contributions are secured under a further section 106 agreement which is binding on the land and are to be paid towards community facilities and education. Whilst the triggers for making the payments have now been reached, payments have not yet been made by Acorn Homes and the council is currently corresponding with the developers to secure those contributions.

“The original error was unprecedented and is very much regretted by the council. That error has been acknowledged by NDC in its dealings with the Parish Council and with affected local residents and the council will continue in its efforts to secure the benefits described”.

Mark Thomas, Managing Director of Acorn Developments, said: “We have contributions to make and we are aware of those.

“The scheme has lost money, so it has been more challenging to make those payments, but we are looking to make a payment on September 31, followed by a final payment on October 31.”

According to Cllr David Worden, Leader of North Devon Council, 117 affordable homes have been delivered during the pandemic, with 636 affordable homes awaiting completion since May.

Within his statement, Cllr Worden said the housing crisis in North Devon “needs a joined up approach from local and national government to resolve these issues and will need honesty and commitment from all those involved.”

Stewart said the council’s handling of the development at West Down shouldn’t be repeated elsewhere in North Devon if it wants to discuss housing as their highest priority.

He said: “There’s a lack of affordable housing in the area and this is one example where the process has failed. The council are talking about creating affordable housing in North Devon, but the way that these developments are being managed needs to change.

“The affordable homes aspect of the development has been finished and empty for at least 18 months. At that time, it was a disgrace. Five homes empty and not occupied with the housing crisis in North Devon.”

“I think their approach has been incredibly rude, especially to our parish council. Our parish council are very passionate about the village but throughout this whole situation they have just been ignored and shut out.

“This is something that will affect our village for years and years to come.”

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