An estate of more than 400 new homes which has been given the go-ahead in Preston will not generate a penny to fund new secondary school places, after councillors decided that it was more important for affordable housing to be provided instead.Advertisement
Education bosses had requested that housebuilder Wain Homes contribute £1.6m to creating the additional high school classroom capacity that will be needed as result of its plans for a plot of land south of Bartle Lane in Lower Bartle, Cottam.
However, the developer argued that the scheme would not be financially viable if it had to make the payment – and also initially insisted that it could not afford any of the other cash and in-kind contributions that would ordinarily be demanded of it for an estate of the size proposed. Those would usually include a commitment to 30 percent of the dwellings being classed as ‘affordable’.
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A recent meeting of Preston City Council’s planning committee heard that year-long negotiations between the authority and the company had led to the latter offering to meet the affordable housing requirement – but councillors were told that the school places would still go unfunded.
The situation split committee members, with a minority voting to refuse permission for the development, because of what one of them described as the “desperate” need for more secondary school space in the city.
As part of the hybrid approval granted for the scheme, which includes two nearby parcels of land – one of which will see 429 homes built on it and the other 26 – Wain Homes will also hand over more than eight acres to the city council for just £1 in order to allow the development of a so-called “linear park” that will run through the wider area. Yet there was also disquiet over that plan, because the area earmarked by the authority for the green space runs either side of electricity pylons.
The committee heard that in order to comply with local planning policies governing developer contributions, Wain Homes would be expected to fork out £13.6m for the larger plot – almost £32,000 for every house to be built.
That sum includes the £1.6m sought by Lancashire County Council for 64 extra secondary school places, as well as £3.3m towards the cost of the under-construction East-West link road to facilitate development in North West Preston, £5.6m to subsidise the affordable housing quota and £3.1m in what is known as “community infrastructure levy” (CIL), a pot used to fund local facilities needed as result of housing developments.
Wain Homes submitted a viability assessment in which it argued that it could not afford any of the payments.
However, CIL is a non-negotiable fee in Preston, which, for this development, will be used to cover the £2.9m that County Hall has also requested to provide the additional 163 primary school places that it estimates will be required because of the estate. But there will not be enough levy cash left over to similarly boost secondary school capacity.
The money requested by the county council for additional school places arising from housebuilding is ordinarily used to fund the expansion of existing school sites. However, an entirely new secondary school is due to be built in North West Preston as part of the long-planned and ongoing housing boom in the area, which will see 5,500 dwellings spring up over the two decades to the mid-2030s.
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The potential location of the new facility is the subject of an ongoing wrangle previously revealed by the Local Democracy Reporting Service. Land has been earmarked for the school as part of a 320-home development in Higher Bartle, but County Hall recently consulted on the option of building on the site of the former Tulketh High School instead – and is now considering its options after receiving some negative feedback over the proposal.
Wherever the facility is ultimately built, planning committee member John Potter said that he could not support the Wain Homes development if it did not contribute “some funding” towards places at the establishment, given that the lack of school capacity in the area is “probably the number one issue that comes up” amongst residents.
Katie Delaney, the agent acting for the developer on the application, said that while the absence of funding for secondary school places was “clearly regrettable”, it was “outweighed by [ensuring] the delivery of the site”. She warned that the scheme may never get off the ground if planning permission were made conditional on the requested financial contributions being met in full.
The city council asked an independent planning consultant to analyse Wain Homes’ viability claims and they concluded that the firm could make around £8.5m in payments in connection with the estate – and still generate the level of profit deemed a reasonable expectation for developers under national planning guidance, which is set at a minimum of 15 percent.
Committee members were presented with a range of options about how the requested cash commitment could be split between the provision of affordable housing, secondary school places and funding for the East-West link road, which will be the main access point for the development.
The possibilities ranged from 10 to 30 percent of the properties being classed as affordable, along with differing levels of cash contribution within that span, reflecting the cost of providing below market rate homes.
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If 10 percent of the properties were within the affordable category, the consultant concluded that Wain Homes could make a £3.7m financial contribution – on top of the non-negotiable CIL payment – which would have covered the secondary school places and two thirds of the expected link road payment.
At 20 percent affordable homes provision, the possible cash commitment would fall to £1.95m – still enough for the secondary school places – while at 30 percent, it was found only the CIL could be provided, as that level of affordable housing would cost the company £5.6m.
While the developer disputed all of those suggestions, subsequent discussions with town hall planners – who made it clear that they would recommend refusal of the application if there were to be no contributions beyond CIL – led to Wain Homes making a so-called “without prejudice” offer to deliver 125 affordable homes, equivalent to 29 percent of the 429-home estate.
Planning officers recommended that committee members accept the proposal, warning that if they refused it and their decision was overturned on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, permission would likely be granted on the basis of no developer contributions other than CIL.
Cllr Potter said that he would have come down on a different side of “the line” between how much of the cash should be used to supply affordable housing and the amount that should be reserved for secondary school places.
He added: “[It] makes us look…stupid if we pass something that has zero secondary school [funding] when we have a secondary school crisis in that part of Preston.”
Fellow committee member Jennifer Mein said that while she shared Cllr Potter’s concerns over school places, there was also an acute need for affordable housing in the city.
“Families living in Preston need these houses to be built,” Cllr Mein said, adding that it was Lancashire County Council’s responsibility to ensure sufficient school capacity.
The city council’s cabinet member for planning and regulation, David Borrow – who also sits on the committee – emphasised that County Hall would have to “find the money to build [a new secondary school]”, irrespective of the eventual location or any planning decision about an individual estate.
He also reminded his colleagues that the proposed Wain Homes development was on land that had been earmarked for housing under the city’s local plan – and warned that rejecting it could mean that other, less desirable, plots “north of the M55 and east of the M6” could have to be be opened up for housebuilding in order for Preston to meet its minimum new housing targets.
Cllr Borrow added: “[This application] just shows the difficulty…of being able to extract enough money [from a] development to pay for the roads…the schools, have enough affordable housing and to have green spaces.
“Sometimes you’ve got to compromise and say: ‘This is the best we can get.’”
Planning case officer Robert Major highlighted that the financial contributions that had been secured from Wain Homes amounted to just under £20,000 per house on the larger part of the scheme – when the average on developments outside of North West Preston was just £7,000-£9,000. He added that the value of the land to be given over to the linear park also needed to be factored in.
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However, committee member Harry Landless queried whether the estate was even necessary.
“A lot of [the viability] argument is [due to the fact that] that the market in this part of North West Preston is saturated. I think we’re building too many houses…[and] you’re hacking up yet another piece of rural countryside to put a development that may not be necessarily need[ed],” Cllr Landless said.
In a consultation response to the plans, the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) noted that Preston had delivered almost four times its minimum new housing target between 2018/19 and 2020/21.
The organisation also suggested that “more efficient” use of the land eyed by Wain Homes than the “significant number” of detached housing indicated could have safeguarded “the remaining greenfield land around [the site]”.
The part of the application relating to the 429-home estate was submitted in outline form, meaning that the exact house styles will be brought before the committee for approval at a later date.
The separate plot of 26 homes will be made up three two-bedroomed, 14 three-bedroomed and nine four-bedroomed properties – with the total number being a reduction in the 42 previously proposed for the site in 2021, when an earlier application was rejected for encroaching too far into the planned linear park. The space required for the park also led to the larger site of 429 homes being cut down from the 480 originally suggested – although that still leaves a narrower area for the green space than was envisaged in a masterplan for the development of the North West Preston area which was drawn up seven years ago.
The smaller of the two tranches of housing will form part of a 203-dwelling Wain Homes development – known as The Paddocks – which is already well under way to the south. Twelve of the 26 dwellings approved will be classed as affordable in order to achieve the required overall 30 percent affordable housing level across those two sites combined.
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