Affordable housing will not be provided as part of the redevelopment of a Worthing hardware store – despite guidelines suggesting contributions of nearly £750,000 should be due.
Worthing Borough Council’s planning committee approved Rocco Homes’ plans for Bunce’s, in Chapel Road, which will see the popular store replaced with 32 flats.
But councillors were told affordable housing could not be provided as it would prevent the scheme being financially viable.
The authority usually requests such developments provide 30 per cent affordable housing – or a financial contribution to be used elsewhere.
Government guidelines, however, now require councils to take into account the viability of the project.
Planning officer Gary Peck said: “I think the happy days where we could write a policy and have a realistic expectation it will be adhered to in all circumstances have sadly gone. It gives me no pleasure to say that.”
Rocco will provide a contribution of £25,000 following negotiations but this still represented a shortfall of £744,901.
Chris Barker, director of ECE, which worked with the developer on the plans, said providing the full 30 per cent was ‘prohibitive’.
The expense of demolition, site remediation and construction costs, he said, would limit the profit margin to less than 14 per cent – lower than the usual industry standard.
He noted the finances had been scrutinised by an independent valuer, at the request of the council.
Mr Peck said the council was not ‘rolling over’ and reiterated the process the council had undertaken through the valuer.
But councillor Paul Yallop called for more intense scrutiny of the figures.
He said: “What I’d really like to see is the outline figures so we can actually take a judgement ourselves as members because we are here making the decision blindly. I’d really like to see these numbers.
“We are basically giving way on nearly £750,000 of affordable housing which we are desperate for in the town and I don’t feel comfortable with that. But I do love the scheme. I would like to think we could approve it but that is the one thing I am reluctant to support.”
Councillor Edward Crouch said councillors could get upset about the issue but was not convinced they had the power to intervene.
“There are providers out there who are providing affordable housing and this council recently made a £10million loan (to Worthing Homes) to facilitate affordable housing,” he said.
Liberal Democrat councillor Hazel Thorpe also noted concerns. She welcomed the inclusion of solar panels but questioned whether money would be better spent on affordable housing.
Bunce’s has relocated to Portland Road, with a trade counter in East Worthing. Increased parking was among the benefits of the move.
Rocco’s plans will include 12 spaces for 32 flats, prompting objections from residents in Lennox Road.
West Sussex County Council raised no objection, with the site in a ‘sustainable’ location near the town centre and railway station.
Mr Yallop noted the stance made it difficult for the council to object.
He said: “We all know parking in the town centre is not easy and we know there will be more cars than there are parking spaces but sadly our highways colleagues in Chichester have declared that it is not severe, so we have to roll over on that. We don’t have any choice.”
The plans were unanimously approved.