671-home Doncaster scheme given green light despite being found 'unviable'

Plans for a 671-home urban extension to Doncaster have been approved, despite the scheme being found to be unviable and unable to provide any affordable housing or other planning gain contributions via a section 106 agreement.

Developer Countryside submitted a full application to Doncaster Council proposing the new housing plus an access road and public open space in Hexthorpe, a suburb of the South Yorkshire town.

The scheme would be built on a vacant 32-hectare brownfield site, part of which is former industrial land, and part of which is green belt. 

However, the green belt section of the site will not be used for housing, according to a report for the planning committee by officers.

Most of the site is allocated for employment use by in local planning policies but officers recommended that members approve the scheme on the basis of an existing unbuilt permission for housing on the site, which established the principle of residential development.

The site is also identified for housing in Doncaster’s draft local plan, which was submitted to government for inspection in March.

The scheme also fails to meet Doncaster’s housing policies by virtue of being assessed as unviable – with a developer margin of lower than 15 per cent - and therefore unable to by itself provide any affordable housing.

However, the report to members said that Countryside has nevertheless entered into a contract with affordable housing provider Sage to buy 166 homes for affordable housing, with the intention that this will be funded by housing quango Homes England.

This would meet the local planning policy requirement for 26 per cent affordable housing, officers said.

The report states: "Viability appraisals have been submitted for both an open market housing scheme and a mixed tenure scheme with both showing that to deliver any of the normal [section 106] asks such as education contributions and affordable housing would render the development unviable. 

"This has been verified by an independent consultant.

"The proposed layout however does provide for public open space." 

The report goes on to say that with Homes England grant funding, the scheme is "unviable but deliverable". However, at the time of writing, Homes England grant funding "has not yet been secured and negotiations are ongoing".

The scheme was considered in the context of the National Planning Policy Framework's presumption in favour of sustainable development because the proposed use does not accord with the development plan. 

The report said that while the proposal is unable to guarantee delivery of the council’s policy asks  on affordable housing, education and bio-diversity enhancement, “the proposal does deliver on site public open space, bus shelters and a transport bond to encourage sustainable transport into the development site.”

The document added that the council will enter into a 'clawback' agreement with the developer to allow “re-testing viability throughout the entire build programme at regular intervals to ensure that should profit be made due to changes in market conditions – that monies are then recovered by the council to be used for the public benefits that are currently unviable”.

Officers concluded: "The proposal will redevelop a vacant, brownfield site for housing. 

"Officers have identified no adverse economic, environmental or social harm that would significantly or demonstrably outweigh the benefits identified when considered against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole. 

"The proposal for housing is in line with the development plan, the forward direction of Doncaster’s Local Plan and on a site that already benefits from a housing permission. 

"The proposal will ensure Doncaster continues to deliver much needed housing in a sustainable location." 

The application was approved by committee members earlier this month.

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