Plea over future of housing and offices project

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A SCHEME for a large complex of housing and offices at Kelham Island is being kept alive amid the economic gloom – but the council is being asked to relax conditions so it is viable.

Permission was granted five years ago for 172 apartments and business units on the site of the former Richardson’s cutlery works off Russell Street and Alma Street.

Now an application has been made to the council to renew the approval and, in line with Government guidance to encourage development, to loosen conditions that site owners Mandale Construction says threaten the project.

In particular, a stipulation that major housing developments should contain some affordable housing – homes to be offered below market value – is described as a potential obstacle. When the original go-ahead was given for the Kelham Island project, this was not a requirement.

Planning consultants England & Lyle say: “The imposition of additional contributions and requirements in respect of affordable housing and, to a lesser degree, renewable energy generation, would render the scheme unviable and would also be at odds with the spirit of the recently published Draft National Planning Policy Framework which confirms that the Government is committed to ensuring that the planning system does everything it can to support sustainable economic growth.”

At stake, it is argued, is a “high quality well-designed mixed-use scheme” for a prominent location in the Kelham Island Conservation Area, which would consolidate efforts to attract housing and jobs to the district bordering the River Don.

“The application site was purchased by the applicant in early 2007 at the height of the property boom and the purchase price was based on predicted capital returns during this period,” say the planning agents.

However, the “unprecedented” economic downturn has significantly compromised the viability of the approved scheme and there have been a number of unforeseen costs following the purchase of the site, especially with more than £200,000 being required for archaeological works.

The authority is being requested to ensure that no additional financial contributions are needed so that the proposed development, which includes 1,770 sq metres of business units and 116 parking spaces, “is not further compromised”.

Town hall officers will prepare a report before a decision is taken by councillors.