Granham Hill garage site: development to go ahead after Wiltshire Council agrees to drop affordable housing contribution

Written by Tony Millett on .

Artist's impression of the development at the foot of Granham HillArtist's impression of the development at the foot of Granham HillMcCarthy and Stone hope to have contractors back on the Granham Hill garage site within a matter of weeks to begin work building 27 retirement apartment for those aged 55 and over.  They had appealed against an agreed contribution of £334,625 to be paid towards new affordable housing in Marlborough - a contribution known as a Section 106 payment.

Once the garage buildings were demolished and contamination removed from the site, construction was suspended for several months while negotiations proceeded with Wiltshire Council.

Wiltshire Council officers confirmed that "...the development is economically unviable with any off-site affordable housing contribution."  Note that 'any' - nowhere in the Council officer's report is it suggested that the £334,625 figure should be reduced rather than dropped altogether.

The Council officer "...reluctantly recommended that the Section 106 agreement be modified to remove the requirement for the off-site contribution of £334,625 towards affordable housing."  

McCarthy and Stone's appeal was not sent back to Wiltshire Council's Eastern Planning Committee for discussion or decision.  The relevant Wiltshire Council cabinet member - Councillor Toby Sturgis - accepted the recommendation and approved the appeal.

McCarthy and Stone had appealed against this Section 106 charge after it was discovered that the site had significantly more and more serious contamination than was realised at the time of their planning application and the cost of removing it made the project financially unviable.

Marlborough.News understands that once the buildings were removed it was discovered that concrete below the buildings contained asbestos which was very expensive to remove safely.  But the application also rested on ' costs.'  A viability report on the project was submitted to Wiltshire planning officers.

This also considered 'a significant increase in the Benchmark Land Value' based on newly available evidence.  And although sale prices for the apartments '...are likely to be higher than those originally anticipated', the increased returns would not off-set McCarthy and Stone's extra costs.  (The site was valued in March 2014 at £585,000.)

The developers' application stated: "McCarthy and Stone have attempted to consider alternative scenarios and reworking of the building...but the basis of the scheme has been seriously compromised by the unknown extra overs [sic] which had they been known at the time of the determination of the original application would have significantly influenced the appraisal and ability of the scheme to deliver off-site s16 contributions."

The appeal was made under a temporary section of the government's planning law which gave supporting development and promoting economic growth priority over making developers contribute to infrastructure costs and specifically to affordable housing.   This temporary order ran out on 30 April 2016 - and the McCarthy and Stone appeal was lodged by email on 28 April 2016.

Marlborough Town Council had opposed the original planning application for this development.  And Councillors were incensed that McCarthy and Stone had decided they "need no longer honour this agreement if Wiltshire Council agrees with the viability report."

The Town Council's view is included in Wiltshire Council's report on the appeal: "Marlborough Town Council should like to remind Wiltshire Council that the Marlborough Area Strategy...recognises the need for affordable housing in the town.  Core Policy 14 further supports this consideration.  The Town Council urges Wiltshire Council not to agree to the amendment." see letter from Town Clerk to Cllr Sturgis below

McCarthy and Stone mailshot publicising the development before construction was suspendedMcCarthy and Stone mailshot publicising the development before construction was suspended  (Click to enlarge)(Click to enlarge)

Wiltshire Council received one letter about the appeal.  Mrs Ann Twisk wrote: "Disgusted that the developer is now seeking to renege on their commitment to provide a payment toward the provision of affordable housing.  The profit derived from this development will be very healthy, and the extra costs are not the fault of the local council, but the developers surveyor.  Let them bear the costs - not the locals!!!"

Letter to Cllr SturgisLetter to Cllr SturgisAn e-petition organised by Val Compton and Marlborough Notice Board’s Marie O’shaughnessy gained over 330 signatures - from people who were over 18 years old, were living within the parish of Marlborough and who included their post code. The petition demanded that McCarthy and Stone honour the Section 106 contribution for affordable housing.

The petition closed on 13 November 2016.  It was forwarded to Wiltshire Council.  No one from the Council wrote back to confirm that the petition had been accepted. However it is mentioned - without any acknowledgement of the number of signatories - in Wiltshire Council’s Case Officer’s Report on McCarthy and Stones’ application to drop the contribution.

The context of the problem was that McCarthy and Stone had decided to pull out of the project altogether if the Section 106 payment was not altered.  In September the company reported a rise in cancellations by buyers and since the Brexit vote their share price has dropped considerably and been volatile.

Although it is not entirely clear from the Wiltshire Council documents, it seems that McCarthy and Stone will still have to pay a Section 106 charge towards the Wessex Stone Curlew Project - a sum of £374.49.

The site has a history of planning applications: in 1978 permission was granted to alter and extend the "premises to use as garage, repair shops, showroom and petrol retail sales."  In 1988 an application was refused for a 'residential development' on the site. And in 2008 permission was refused for a scheme of 36 sheltered apartments for older people with lounges and ancillary facilities.