Partial victory but more affordable housing not guaranteed

Councillors have voted by 8-2 to defer the decision on the controversial Chocolate Factory development primarily on the basis of affordable housing, despite a last ditch offer of 4.4% affordable units from the developer, and a recommendation to approve by planning officers.

The cross party committee also raised and heard various concerns ranging from the protected presence of bats, traffic implications and the “non-provision of parking”. The vote follows Cable revelations about the developer’s profit calculations, tax affairs and mounting community pressure from groups like ACORN. 

What will happen next is uncertain.The developer, Generator Group, could make amendments to its application that could satisfy concerns. One possibility touted by committee members would be to demolish the existing structures and build anew. This could reduce build costs, improve the profits of the developer and therefore the levels of affordable housing.

“They clearly haven’t consulted the community properly on this” said Nick Ballard from campaign group ACORN, adding “we’re pleased that councillors recognised this along with other issues and voted to not approve the application today. We now expect Generator Group to fully open negotiations as we move forward.”

However, the developer could appeal the deferral. In this case the odds could be heavily stacked against the council, as the appeal would be heard by the Planning Inspectorate. The Inspectorate, an executive agency of the government, is bound to abide by strict national planning laws, aspects of which a council planning officer today described as like being “sent into the boxing ring with one arm tied behind your back”. The council could also be required to pay all costs of the appeal.

This scenario appeared to be troubling many councillors on the committee. One expressed concern that frustration from some of the community was being directed at them as local representatives, rather than the Conservative government and their policies.

The strength of feeling regarding the matter was clear from dozens in the public gallery, which included Easton councillors Ruth Pickersgill and Afzal Shah, as well from the councillors on the committee. One councillor claimed that the present application amounted to the developer saying, “Screw you Bristol, we’re not giving you the housing you need”.

Stay tuned for updates.

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