Plans approved for hundreds of flats in Butetown with zero affordable homes
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Plans have been approved for developers to build two huge apartment blocks on Dumballs Road in Butetown with zero affordable homes.
Developers now have planning permission to build 432 flats on the site of the Anchor industrial estate, just south of Cardiff and Vale college.
Cardiff council’s planning committee voted to approve permission for the development at a meeting on Wednesday, April 21.
But none of the homes will be classed as ‘affordable’, despite Butetown having thousands of people waiting for social housing.
Councillor Saeed Ebrahim, representing Butetown, said he was “gravely concerned” by the lack of affordable housing.
Writing to the planning committee, he said: “There are over 2,000 applications for housing on the waiting list for Butetown, the majority of which are waiting for one or two bed homes.
“Many of these families and individuals have been on the waiting list for a number years. More affordable homes will support the regeneration of what is historically considered a deprived community and I am gravely concerned that the plans don’t include this provision.”
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. Developers will fund £718,864 towards improving local infrastructure.
Planning officers had asked developers to help pay towards building affordable homes elsewhere in Cardiff. The council’s planning policy said they should pay £6,569,892.
But the developers, Angelo Gordon and Ridgeback Group, said this would make the development “unviable”. This means they would likely make less than 20 per cent profit.
So the council agreed to let them pay nothing at all towards affordable housing.
The council’s planning policy also says affordable housing contributions should not get in the way of permitting new developments — if developers were to make less than 20 per cent profit, then they might not have to pay towards affordable housing at all.
Cllr Keith Jones, chair of the planning committee, said the amount the council asks developers to pay towards affordable housing was “aspirational and abstract”.
He said: “At first glance when you look at it, you see a big figure sought and a far smaller number realised, so you could make the initial implication that that’s not very good.
“But the council’s affordable housing policy is aspirational, to be sought in the abstract. When we come to each specific case, obviously due process has to be followed about whether that can be realised.”
While most approved the plans, some councillors on the committee were disappointed with the complete lack of affordable housing. Cllr Peter Wong voted against approval, and Cllr Ali Ahmed abstained from voting.
Cllr Ahmed said: “I am very, very disappointed again about the affordable housing and Section 106. We have had this story so many times; so many times. We all know the desperate need for social housing in our city.”
Cllr Wong added: “To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.”
However others raised the point that without this development going ahead, the currently vacant industrial estate could remain vacant, and any new homes were better than none.
Cllr Mike Jones-Pritchard said: “I recognise the desire of the local community to see more affordable housing. But from the independent figures, it’s a simple mathematical equation: if we enforce it, then there’s no scheme and the site remains vacant.”
One constraint is councillors on the planning committee must follow the council’s policy when deciding whether to approve permission for a development. Changing that policy is up to the full council, rather than the planning committee.
The council’s local development plan includes a key point on the viability issue of affordable housing. It states: “In negotiating affordable housing, each proposal’s actual contribution will depend on that scheme’s capacity for provision.
“This will ensure that the affordable housing contribution in itself will not make the scheme unviable.”
To get more affordable housing built in Cardiff, perhaps the council’s policy needs to change, Cllr Ed Stubbs suggested. He said: “We’re all frustrated because we all want to see more affordable housing. This is one for those who do make policy to reflect on.
“I can’t make policy here, but other bodies can make policy, and if they want more affordable housing then they need to give this committee the power to get it.”