AFFORDABLE housing provision looks set to be reduced in a building scheme designed to help pay for a £23m modernisation of the Northumbria Police headquarters complex.
Plans to build 150 new homes on part of the site were approved almost three years ago to help fund the major revamp of the force’s administrative HQ near Ponteland, Northumberland.
Outline permission was granted on condition that 50% of the new houses were in the affordable bracket – as well as a police contribution of almost £700,000 towards local road, public transport and traffic improvements.
But despite lengthy negotiations between police and county council bosses, they have been unable to sign off on a legal agreement securing the planning obligations, meaning the 2009 permission has still not been formally issued.
Now the Northumbria Police Authority is seeking to reduce the percentage of affordable homes to be built from 50% to 20% because it claims the scheme is not financially viable otherwise.
That means the whole planning application – which includes the 150 houses, a new 12,000sq ft office block and an access road – has to be determined all over again.
An application was due to go before the west area planning committee next week with a recommendation to approve – but yesterday the council said it had been withdrawn from agenda at the police authority’s request to allow further discussions on legal matters. Outline consent for the revamp was given in March 2009 by Castle Morpeth Council – whose policy at the time was to require up to 50% affordable housing in schemes of more than 30 units. It generated 178 letters of objection, but the police authority said the scheme would “lead to a new headquarters that will move us into the 21st century.”
A report to next week’s planning committee says police chiefs have now submitted a financial assessment which concludes that anything more than 20% affordable housing will make the redevelopment project unviable because of a funding shortfall.
Officers say the police application can be supported if it means investment in police services and job retention can be successfully delivered.
If approval of the revamp is eventually given by the council, the police authority will be expected to comply with other elements of the 2009 legal agreement. These include contributions of £300,000 to public transport improvements in the area, £150,000 towards traffic management measures, £240,000 for road improvements and £75,000 for public art.
Yesterday Ponteland mayor Peter Cowey said: “We would like to see more affordable housing to help local young people who can’t afford to buy in Ponteland. However, we objected to the number of houses proposed at the police HQ because of the impact on existing roads, schools and services.”
Last night police authority property adviser, Peter Udall, said: “The Ponteland planning application is being deferred to allow us to resolve a minor technical issue and make adjustments to the wording of the application. We anticipate that the revised application will appear at next month’s planning committee.”