21 May 2018
Green Party councillor Des Harris (Frome Market) writes:
Over the past few years housing developers have been able to “get away” with building far fewer lower-cost homes in Frome than they should have done. This is because of what is known as a Viability Assessment. The developer commissions a report by a surveyor or some other professional that produces evidence showing that, if the required number of “affordable homes” is built, the developer will not be able to achieve the profit margin – usually 20 – 25% - they say they need.
The Mendip Local Plan plainly stipulates that in every development of 10 houses or more 30% should be affordable or for social rent. In a number of recent cases in Frome - e.g the old Butler & Tanner, Police Station and Western Vinyl sites – an average of only 5% of the 280 homes granted planning permission have been “affordable.” The reason? Developers in each case have claimed it wouldn’t be “viable” for them to build that many homes at below market value.
What’s more, the democratically elected councillors on the planning board who make the decisions about large developments have not been allowed to check the figures or even see the assessments. Why? Because, so they say, it is “commercially sensitive” information. In other words, they don’t trust us to keep it to ourselves.
And all this has come at a time when there has never been a greater need for lower cost homes. House prices in Frome have risen beyond a level where most young families and people not on large incomes can afford to rent, let alone buy. If we want them to come and live in Frome, and I guess most of us do, then we must be able to hold developers properly to account.
Well, that is about to happen. A motion presented to the Mendip Council meeting on Monday 14th May by Green Party councillor Des Harris calling for these viability assessments to be made open, transparent and available to councillors in good time was supported by the Portfolio Holder for planning Cllr Nigel Woollcombe-Adams (Con) and seconded by Cllr Damon Hooton (Lib Dem). The motion was passed with overwhelming consent.
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