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Clarion write-off £45,000 and aborts 65 homes to rent plans for Fenland

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A housing association says it pulled out of building 65 homes on a six-acre site in a Fenland town after planners went back on promises made by their predecessors.

Clarion Housing made the claim during a performance review in front of the overview and scrutiny committee of Fenland District Council.

Daniel Read, Clarion’s director of partnerships for East and Central, dropped the bombshell at Monday’s committee meeting.

65 homes for Gaul Road, March – all for rent – will not now be built. Clarion Housing told Fenland Council overview and scrutiny committee it was because planners changed – and 65 had to drop to 55.

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“Last time we were here we were talking about a couple of developments we were hoping to move through,” he said.

“Unfortunately, with current market conditions and some issues around planning things haven’t gone very well.”

He explained that Clarion had been working with housing group Partner to bring forward “an all-affordable scheme” of 65 homes on a site in Gaul Road, March.

He said Clarion had been forced to abort the scheme which had been previously supported by the council’s planning team.

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“That support fell away when planning officers changed,” he said.

Mr Read accepted that “to a large extent we should have been more formal in our approach” and obtained written confirmation from the planning team that a 65-home scheme would be supported.

“It is difficult to prove that point,” he said after a new planning team requested only 55 homes were built on the site.

65 homes for Gaul Road, March – all for rent – will not now be built. Clarion Housing told Fenland Council overview and scrutiny committee it was because planners changed – and 65 had to drop to 55. Image of site from planning portal, FDC

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He said providing only 55 was unviable for Clarion’s house building arm, Latimer, since the company faced increased construction costs like all other companies.

“Rather than spend any further funds to take it to appeal we decided to abandon that opportunity,” he said.

Mr Read said the aborted scheme had cost Clarion £45,000 since they had part paid the cost of the planning application with Partner.

He said Partner was now going it alone – an application is still under consideration by Fenland Council.

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Latest planning applications show Partner has reduced provision to the 55 homes requested but with a mixture of tenures.

Fenland’s housing team said the scheme is expected to produce 34 “affordable rented” homes with 21 of them offered as “shared ownership” properties.

65 homes for Gaul Road, March – all for rent – will not now be built. Clarion Housing told Fenland Council overview and scrutiny committee it was because planners changed – and 65 had to drop to 55. Site plan as shown on FDC planning portal

“The mix is proposing a tenure split of 62% affordable rent and 38% shared ownership tenure,” says Jessica Wicks, housing strategy and enabling officer for Fenland District Council.

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“We are happy to support the above housing and tenure mix.”

Mr Read says Clarion could yet still be involved if planning is agreed and building costs “settle down”.

He also referred to a smaller scheme in Hassocks Way, Wimblington.

A report to the committee said: “This opportunity is no longer being pursued.

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“This is due to the size of the contractor developer who has control of the site being considered unsuitable in the current market conditions.”

Mr Read said Clarion owned what is effectively a “ransom strip” but they were unhappy with the prospect of collaborating with a small developer.

He said Clarion’s strategic land team were considering other land in Fenland, but it would five to ten years “before we see homes coming out of the ground”.

However, he said Clarion hoped to provide 16 homes at Roman Court, Leverington, once viability issues had been resolved.

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And at Springfield Avenue, March, and once planning is secured, Clarion hoped to complete 40 affordable homes for rent by July 2024.

Clarion looks after 4,324 homes in Fenland (including leaseholders) – 2,294 of the homes are in Wisbech.

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