Councillors have rejected a developer’s bid to reduce the number of affordable homes in a new development.
Martin Homes Whitehawk Way Ltd asked Brighton and Hove City Council to approve slashing the number of homes in a five-storey building near completion, at a former NHS clinic site from 15 to ten, with the company paying £56,664 to the council instead.
Housing campaigner Daniel Harris spoke against the application at the Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday 2 November.
He was particular concerned the site used to be in public ownership as the Whitehawk Clinic in Whitehawk Road, and would end up with limited affordable housing.
Martin Homes, he said, operates out tax havens and is also developing another former council-owned building at 80 Buckingham Road.
He said: “This site was formally a council-owned land asset. As I understand, it then became NHS Trust land.
“The last occupier was Pavilions, which provided much-needed drug and alcohol recovery services, which the area has since lost.”
Mr Harris said he works with people who are “hidden homeless” living in over-crowded homes and frontline workers for public services who cannot afford to live in the city and need affordable housing.
He added: “I think it is important for councillors to push back on this developer’s request – otherwise, our city will always be regarded by developers as a ‘soft touch’ – always letting developers have their way.”
When the company secured planning permission in November 2017, the agreement signed the following year was for 40 per cent, or 15 of the 38 homes to be provided as “affordable” housing, with eight for rent and seven in shared ownership.
The District Valuer Service (DVS) reviewed the assessment and confirmed ten units could be provided on-site, plus the contribution of £56,664.
A legal agreement would allow for a review mechanism with updates on the viability, as the council’s policy is that 40 per cent of new homes in a development should be “affordable”.
Martin Homes’s agent Savill’s Brighton director of planning Guy Dixons said the DVS has independently assessed the development and has said Martin Homes can afford to supply ten affordable houses on site or 26 per cent.
He said: “Our client has run into financial difficulties with their lender on this scheme as a result of a significant increase in build costs due to the inflationary effects caused by covid, Brexit and, more recently, the war in Ukraine.
“Work on this site has been rather stop-start, and this is due in no small part to the covid pandemic, which resulted in the previous contractor and lender both ceasing trading.”
Labour councillor Clare Moonan said she was frustrated that another developer asked the council to reduce its commitment to providing affordable homes, which would be too few to attract a registered social housing provider.
Councillor Moonan said: “We come up with this problem all the time, we get something, and the registered providers don’t want them.
“We are a registered provider, so we say ‘we’ll have them’, but we don’t want them either because we don’t want the small units. We are really in a bind here and missing opportunities.”
Green councillor David Gibson said he would be open to receiving a “commutable sum” of £1.1 million instead of the homes in the Whitehawk development, as the money could be used to buy up to 14 homes within six months.
Former Labour, now independent councillor Nick Childs said the situation was a case of a developer seeking to make a huge profit margin, more than a buy-to-let landlord.
He said: “We need to send a clear message to developers. We will not tolerate this continual back-sliding and attempts to water down obligations placed on them.
Former Conservative, now independent councillor Tony Janio was the only member of the committee to vote for the request.
He said: “This committee seems to think capitalism is a massive blob of money that’s going to go anywhere and do anything that it seems to want to do.
“In the end, we’re relying on people with money making a return on that money and investing in these properties.”
Councillors voted seven to one to reject the application.