Gilston developers set for huge windfall by scrapping plans to build 1,700 affordable homes

Gilston developers set for huge windfall by scrapping plans to build 1,700 affordable homes
Gilston developers set for huge windfall by scrapping plans to build 1,700 affordable homes

16th November 2023

Plans to build 10,000 homes on former Green Belt land in East Hertfordshire have become mired in controversy because developers have removed 1,700 affordable homes from the plans.

For reasons that remain unclear, East Herts District Council have accepted the developers’ argument that the 1,700 affordable homes, which are much needed in the borough, will now be sold at full market price of approximately £480,000 each. The impact of turning affordable homes into market homes for sale is the developers benefitting from an increase in profits of approximately £130 million.

The consequence of the Council’s decision to accept the developers’ argument is 1,700 affordable homes the borough needs will now need to be delivered on other, yet to be identified, sites that are likely to be Green Belt. Just 23% of the homes at Gilston will now be affordable, far below the 40% minimum standard for large developments.

Viability in planning expert Murray Lloyd has undertaken an in-depth review of all the available information that has informed the Council’s decision. As a result of this review, there are strong reasons supported by evidence that the Council should reconsider its position before issuing planning permission.

A key document underpinning this evidence was provided by the Council following a Freedom of Information request. A report produced in May 2022 on behalf of the Council and neighbouring Authorities states the Gilston Garden Town development can in fact deliver all of the required affordable housing – a total of 4,000 affordable homes – despite the developers insisting otherwise..

It would appear this report was not made available to members of the planning committee or the general public.

There are a series of publicly available documents the Council has relied upon when making its decision. These documents when scrutinised reach conclusions that are challengeable, not least in relation to the hugely inflated cost assessment produced by the developers which suggests an increase in excess of £400 million when compared to previous estimates.

Murray Lloyd Director at Continuum said:

“In the case of Gilston Garden Town, it is difficult to see a compelling justification for why the development cannot deliver the required 1,700 affordable homes especially in light of the scheme benefitting from approximately £111 million of government grant funding.”

The two Gilston applications were considered in February and March 2023, when the Conservatives ran East Herts District Council. The Council agreed in principle to approve the applications, but left Council officials to negotiate the details and then issue the planning permissions.

The Conservatives were then kicked out at the May local elections and replaced by the Greens and Lib Dems who had campaigned against developments like Gilston.

Continuum’s review has now landed on the Councils’ desks, and the new Council, led by Green Councillor Ben Crystall, is being asked to make sure that everything is above board before the planning permissions are issued.

So far, they have refused to do so.

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