Affordable homes review urged as reduced Bircham scheme passed

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Council chiefs have been urged to review their affordable housing policies after developers won their bid to reduce a development scheme in a West Norfolk village.

Plans to build 12 new homes, including two affordable ones, at Long Meadow, Fring Road, Great Bircham were approved by West Norfolk Council in May last year.

But applicants Benton Builders went back to the authority yesterday to secure consent for a reduced scheme of 10 properties with only one affordable home.

The application was passed by 13 votes to three, subject to the completion of legal agreements within three months. The scheme will be refused if those contracts are not finished.

But the scheme sparked fierce debate about how affordable homes are secured in planning applications.

Under the council’s current policies, developers are required to make a financial contribution towards affordable housing where the proportion of such provision leaves a fraction of an affordable home.

In this case, the developers will have to sign legal agreements committing them to a £48,000 contribution towards affordable housing, as well as an affordable home on the site.

But many committee members criticised the move to reduce the number of affordable homes and expressed a reluctance to vote in favour of the scheme on those grounds.

One, Chris Crofts, said: “They got permission for 12. It should be 12.”

But officials repeatedly insisted that the proposals did meet policy guidelines.

Executive director of planning Geoff Hall warned that the authority could even be liable for the applicant’s costs if they chose to appeal a refusal on affordable housing grounds.

That led another committee member, Martin Storey, to call for a change to the current rules.

He said: “They can’t afford to live there. Why? Because we’re not building enough homes so they can afford to live there.”

Earlier, resident Bob Hutchinson told the meeting that, while he supported the previous proposal, he objected to the new scheme because of the reduction in homes.

He told the committee: “The need for affordable housing in Bircham has not gone away.

“The shop has been struggling. The school is now closed. The post office is now closed and the pub is struggling. That’s because of the lack of housing for young families. The homes in our village are out of their reach.”