THE Duke of Northumberland has come under fire for seeking to cut back on affordable housing provision in his home town.
The Duke’s business arm, Northumberland Estates, has asked Northumberland County Council to be allowed to reduce the number of lower-cost homes it will build as part of a scheme in Alnwick.
The organisation is also seeking to raise the prices it will be allowed to charge for the affordable homes by 10%.
Last night, the move was criticised by one county councillor and by a former mayor of Alnwick.
The estates were given planning permission by the county council to build 76 houses on Willoughby’s Bank in August last year.
The scheme was the ninth application the Duke’s business had submitted for the site, with the previous eight all having been turned down either by councillors or Government planning inspectors following appeals, or withdrawn.
All nine applications had been opposed by Alnwick Town Council, with a small number of residents also objecting to some. The ninth application proposed 41 of the 76 homes be affordable, with that defined as 70% of market value.
But now, just over a year on from winning approval, the estates have asked the county council to instead be allowed to build only 27 affordable homes and to make them 80% of market value.
The council’s North area planning committee was recommended to approve the variations, but members deferred the matter to allow officers to have further negotiations with the estates aimed at retaining the definition of affordable housing at 70% of market value. Coun Dougie Watkin, who proposed the delay, said the estates had only been given permission to develop the greenfield site because of the affordable housing element.
He described the estate’s actions as “astounding” and claimed they were only interested in making “more profit out of a building site”.
Eileen Blakey, former mayor of Alnwick and current town councillor, is a previous critic of the scheme. She said the estates’ bid was “not very charitable”.
She added: “I am disappointed that the estates is seeking to reduce the number of affordable houses as well as increase the market value of the affordable housing being built. Alnwick still requires affordable housing.”
The National Housing Federation said the reduction in affordable housing was regrettable.
Derek Long, head of its team in the North, said: “Alnwick is at the epicentre of the affordable housing crisis in the region. Local residents face the highest house prices-to-incomes ratio.
“So with independent predictions this week pointing to house prices and private rents on the rise again over the next five years, the fewer affordable homes that are available, the longer families will have to struggle in a broken housing market.”
Colin Barnes, head of planning at the estates, said: “We are now facing a position where the funding to help make these schemes work, particularly from the Homes and Communities agency, has been significantly reduced, and the private housing market, which would have helped to subsidise this type of scheme in the past, just is not there.
“Consequently we are faced with two options – deliver nothing or deliver a reduced number of affordable houses.
“Our view is that we would rather have 27 affordable houses as part of this development than nothing, particularly as they will be family homes with gardens rather than flats, so are very much what is really needed in Alnwick.”
He added: “I believe Northumberland County Council fully understands our position and the requirement to promote new development, not just in housing.”