Councillors delay decision on Lawley homes plan

Councillors have delayed deciding on a developer’s bid to alter homebuilding plans, and complained the process “held them to ransom” and reduced them to a “rubber-stamp committee”.

Lawley Village
Lawley Village

The Lawley Village Developer Group previously had permission to build the 187-house “phase 10” of its wider “sustainable urban extension” on the understanding one in eight homes would be classed as affordable.

It applied to remove that obligation, saying this was necessary to make the site viable but adding that a grant could still be available to provide it by another route.

Committee legal advisor Ian Ross said the bid was backed by an independently-appraised viability assessment, so, if members refused permission, that would probably be overturned on appeal with the council paying costs. The committee deferred decision to seek further clarification about the document.

Area Team Planning Manager Andrew Gittens told the committee: “Currently, 12.5 per cent affordable housing is obligated.

“The developers are asking the authority to agree zero percent to allow them to apply for Homes England funding which could provide 10 per cent affordable housing on this phase.”

A report for members said the LVDG and Wrekin Housing Group were in discussions, with an “indicative offer for 19 affordable dwellings” – four fewer than under the original plan – should funding be available.

It said providing no affordable homes on phase 10 would leave developers “making a loss of £470,000”, but they faced greater deficits if the obligation remained.

Mr Ross said, under government guidance, the Planning Inspectorate would attach significant weight to the “independently-appraised viability report” leaving the council with “great difficulty” defending its refusal.

Lawley and Overdale Parish Council chairman John Yorke said: “It should not be down to us, the taxpayer, to fund affordable homes via a grant from Homes England.

“Planning applications are expected to be decided upon planning merit and adherence to policy and conditions. The fear of costs should not be a decision factor, yet this is all we hear from the authority.”

Committee member Peter Scott said: “It feels to me like we’re being put to ransom.

“There’s a half-promise somewhere for a few affordable houses, but it doesn’t really cut it.

“It’s just too easy for us all to say yes because we’re afraid it’s going to cost us money, or we’ll get a bad name, or we’ll be left with a site that’s undeveloped.

“In this case we have to say enough is enough.”

Councillor Nigel Dugmore said he and his colleagues were being “backed into a corner and told what to say”.

“We’re just becoming a rubber-stamp committee,” he said.

“I accept we get advice, and the advice is very useful, but at the end of the day it’s up to us.

“If the council has to pay costs the council has to pay costs; at the end of the day I think we’ll have done our duty and made a stand.”

Councillor Janice Jones said: “We’ve said there would be a cost to an appeal. But there already is a cost: Not having affordable housing.

“That is a cost to our community.”

Committee chairman Charles Smith said allowing the development of the site, between West Centre Way and Station Road, Dawley Bank, to continue averted the risk it would be left as an “empty eyesore”.

“We do need the houses and the government guidelines are that we should be building them,” he said.

“I don’t agree with it, but that’s what we are stuck with.”

Councillor Kelly Middleton acknowledged members’ “frustration” at having “no legal room to say ‘no’”, but added: “It seems like a futile exercise, putting something to appeal we’re going to lose.”

Councillor Kuldip Sahota agreed, saying he felt “uneasy” but had to “accept the word of officers”.

A motion to approve the LVDG’s request was defeated by a 5-3 vote. Members then agreed 6-0 to defer it, with Councillor Jones and Councillor Scott abstaining.

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