A council’s own residential development of 100% affordable housing is set to be slashed by more than three-quarters of the originally agreed amount.
Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) is also enlisting the help of private developers to deliver the scheme, which was originally agreed as a 100% affordable housing site.
The authority insists cutting the number of affordable homes and calling on the private sector is the only way to deliver the much-needed homes instead of carrying out the work itself.
But the move has raised fears a future developer could come forward and amend it further to remove all the social housing element.
FHDC got permission from its own planning committee in August 2022 for 30 homes at the site of the former Highview School in Moat Farm Road.
The site in Folkestone was set to host 30 affordable zero-carbon homes but updated plans have reduced that number by 78% to seven.
“The proposals will be to achieve homes that are as near as possible to Zero Carbon in their use,” the original planning documents read.
Homes on the estate were also set to host solar panels and air-source heat pumps.
However, in July this year, a council officer sent a letter asking to vary the legal document which committed them to 100% affordable housing at the site.
“Due to the pressures caused by the current market conditions it has become unviable to deliver as a fully affordable scheme,” it read.
“A scheme update was presented to cabinet in February 2023 and the decision was made to pause the scheme and investigate options for sale of the land to enable a developer to bring the delivery of housing forward.
“Our initial discussions with developers have highlighted a lack of interest in bringing forward a fully affordable scheme due to viability issues at the 100% level.”
At a meeting of FHDC’s planning committee on November 7, a council officer emphasised the authority’s case: “This is to achieve best value for the council as landowner and to ensure the scheme’s viability.
“It's unfortunate that the council doesn’t believe it can deliver a 100% affordable scheme at Highview, but this variation will still meet the council’s affordable housing policy and should ensure that the scheme still comes forward in the planned period delivering much-needed homes,” the officer added.
Cllr Garry Fuller (Lib Dem) proposed deferring the decision, arguing that as it was a council housing development, the cabinet should decide first.
However a planning officer stressed: “What’s before you is acceptable in planning terms and that’s what you should consider.
“When the application was originally before planning committee the applicant had put it forward as 100%.
“Had it come forward at that stage as 22% we would have still recommended for approval because that is policy compliant.”
Cllr Tony Cooper (Lab) was sceptical of the proposals, saying: “The council’s decided it’s going to provide affordable housing. Now if the council can’t afford affordable housing, why not?
“If for example it was decided at some stage in the future that it would be sold off, what’s to stop a potential future developer coming back to the council and asking permission to amend the application so there is no affordable housing?
“I can’t see a reason why we can’t do it right the first time.”
However a legal officer stressed if a private developer attempted to do so they would have to provide viability studies showing they could not provide affordable housing.
The planning committee voted unanimously to approve the change, subject to further approval from the Green/Lib Dem-led cabinet.
When the Greens took the most seats and became the council’s largest party after May’s election, the party pledged to do “everything possible to provide affordable homes that are cheaper to heat and to insulate all council housing to reduce energy bills and to secure more biodiversity on council land and net carbon zero council buildings”.
An FHDC spokesman said: “The council has obtained approval to reduce the affordable housing provision on the Highview site due to the financial viability of the scheme.
“The local planning authority’s policy is for new developments to provide 22% affordable housing – this is in line with all other developments within the district.
“We are seeking a development partner to bring the development forward and are currently marketing the site.
“In order to secure the best offers for the site it has been necessary to amend the Section 106 agreement from 100% affordable housing to that of a policy-compliant 22%.
“It is felt that this will make the site more attractive to the market and help bring the homes forward in the planned period.”