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Decision due on major Cardiff development with zero affordable housing

16 Apr 2021 5 minutes Read
The proposed Anchorworks development. Copyright – CW Architects.

Decision due on major Cardiff development with zero affordable housing

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

Two huge apartment blocks could be built on Dumballs Road in Butetown – depending on a decision next week.

Developers want to build 432 flats on the site of the Anchor industrial estate, just south of Cardiff and Vale college. The buildings currently there would be demolished.

Cardiff council’s planning committee is set to decide whether to approve permission for the development at a meeting on Wednesday, April 21.

The two blocks would consist of 252 one-bed and 180 two-bed apartments, with balconies, a gym and home-working space. One block would be 16 storeys high and the other nine storeys.

None of the 432 apartments will be classed as “affordable” housing.

The council asked the developers, Angelo Gordon and Ridgeback Group, for £7,768,719.78 in Section 106 money — a rule where developers pay for local public services like schools and parks, and to put money towards affordable housing.

‘Not viable’

However, the developers said paying this much money to the council would make the development “not viable”, meaning their profit would not be worth it for building the flats. Instead, they agreed with council planning officers to pay just £718,864 instead.

That’s less than 10 per cent of what the council’s planning policy says they should pay.

Most of the money the council asked for — £6,569,892 — was to fund affordable housing elsewhere in the city. But the developers will not pay a penny towards affordable housing. They will however fund community facilities, school places, and footpaths and cycle lanes.

The council commissioned the District Valuer, quantity surveyors working for the government, to assess a “viability appraisal”. This looked at how much the developers stand to make from the flats. This assessment was not published alongside planning documents.

The District Valuer said the scheme would not be viable and therefore can’t provide the required Section 106 money.

Writing to the council, Lyn Eynon, a campaigner with Cardiff Civic Society, said this problem was happening often in Cardiff, and claimed developers sometimes pay more for land than it is actually worth, predicting they will later be able to whittle down Section 106 money owed.

Mr Eynon said: “The viability case has become self-validating. The expectation that a viability assessment will reject the Section 106 calculation by council officers has become built into the valuation of development land.

“This higher land price then justifies the developer’s case that affordable units would make an application unviable.

“The council must act to break this vicious cycle, which benefits landowners at the expense of Cardiff residents who need affordable homes. This would be a large development and the council should this time act in the interests of those it claims to represent.”

Widespread

These claims are backed up by research from housing charity Shelter, which shows how the problem is widespread and not confined to Cardiff.

The charity found in 2017 that in 11 local authorities in England, when developers used viability assessments, new housing sites contained just seven per cent affordable homes — far below the average of the councils’ policies of a 28 per cent minimum.

The research also showed 44 per cent of new developments in the study had their affordable housing provision whittled down using viability assessments. This means thousands of affordable homes which developers should be building, aren’t getting built.

The Shelter researchers said: “Flexibility in the viability system has driven down affordable housing provision at the expense of land price inflation, essentially making development more expensive”.

Planning officers for Cardiff council said despite not providing any affordable housing, the Dumballs Road development would play a “key role” in delivering the local development plan. In a report, they recommended the planning committee approve permission.

They said: “The scheme would bring a vacant, underused site into beneficial use with associated regeneration benefits; would promote efficient use of land; make a positive contribution to housing supply; and deliver a resource-efficient and climate-responsive design.

“The provision of active uses along Dumballs Road, a new landscaped public square, a landscaped pedestrian and cycle through-route to Canal Park are all warmly welcomed, as is the provision of landscape, public realm and highway improvements along Dumballs Road.”

‘Investment’

Architects for the developers described the redevelopment as a “substantial investment” in the Dumballs Road area, one of the key regeneration sites chosen by the council.

In planning documents, they said: “The project represents a substantial investment in this re-emergent city district, which will augment an increasingly important link between the city core and Cardiff Bay.

“We aim here to embrace the European city approach — advocated as one of the main key aims of the Cardiff local development plan — and take pointers from good examples of European apartment blocks, with live ground floor uses which make streets characterful.”

Up until the 1980s, the Dumballs Road area was mostly industrial buildings, but now is made up of a mix of offices, schools and colleges, residential, and some left-over industry.

Other major plans in the area include building 2,500 homes on the other side of Dumballs Road, next to the River Taff and south of Penarth Road; bars, restaurants and offices at the former Brains brewery; and a 27-storey tower of apartments on Curran Road.

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