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Council’s housing scheme unlikely to include affordable homes

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Fenland Council is expected to argue that a major housing scheme it proposes beside the Nene at Wisbech should not include any affordable homes.

The council has submitted an application through its trading arm – Fenland Futures Ltd – to build up to 60 homes in the Nene Parade/Bedford Street/Chase Street area.

Also included is a 70-apartment care home and a 900 square metres commercial unit.

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NORR Consultants has prepared the design and access statement to support Fenland Futures.

And it says that providing any element of affordable housing is simply not viable.

NORR refers to a report that was commissioned by Fenland District Council and presented to the planning committee two years ago.

Visual of Nene development, Wisbech

“The report concludes that viability in Fenland is marginal and that there is a clear north-south divide,” says NORR.

It found that development in the northern part of the district (in effect that located to the north of A47 Guyhirn roundabout)was between 10% to 15% lower in terms of viability than the rest of the district.

“It sets out that a 20% affordable housing requirement can be achieved on greenfield sites in the south of the district, but that any affordable housing requirement in the north would render development unviable,” says NORR.

“The council’s experience on the ground, through the development management system, is that some schemes are coming forward within the urban areas and on greenfield sites in the northern area, but these are limited and are not generally delivering affordable housing,” says NORR.

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“It separately considered the scope for development contributions from both employment uses and specialist older people’s housing concluding that the delivery of employment uses is challenging in the current market.

“The report therefore urges caution against setting a policy which would impact viability.

“With regard to sheltered and extra care housing, it concludes that this is not able to bear developer contributions (financial or affordable housing) in the Fenland area.”

Area to be developed alongside the Nene, Wisbech

NORR says that the planning committee was not asked to approve the report but rather to note the outcomes.

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These will “be taken into consideration in determining planning applications from this point forwards, particularly in relation to affordable housing”.

NORR says the viability report is capable of being a material consideration in the determination of planning applications.

“In light of the council’s own evidence, it is considered that this development cannot support affordable housing provision or developer contributions,” says NORR.

Visual of the finished development

“It is a challenging and stalled brownfield site with significant abnormal costs associated with flood risk mitigation, utility service provision, and is located within a low value area.”

Fenland Council’s housing strategy and enabling officer is Jessica Wicks.

In an email sent internally she reminds planners that the Fenland Local Plan looks for 25 per cent affordable housing on developments where 10 or more homes will be provided.

She says the tenure mix, as recommended, is for 70 per cent of those to be affordable housing for rent and the remainder through other ‘affordable routes’ to include shared ownership.

Local architectural design agent Peter Humphrey believes more work needs to be done on the application.

In a public submission to Fenland Council he says the application “does not comply with policy”.

He adds: “There is no viability report to support this application.”

Nene carehome visual

Ironically it was back in 2008 that Fenland Council rejected calls for an inquiry into its decision to mothball the £50 million Nene Waterfront Development in Wisbech following the collapse of the partnership with Taylor Wimpey.

The call for an inquiry came from Mr Humphrey, who at the time was also a Cambridgeshire county councillor.

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