Sheffield may ease rules to help housing developers

HOUSING developers could be given an extra helping hand by the council through a relaxation of planning policies in and around the city centre.

To help stimulate regeneration, it is thought the authority is looking at a more flexible approach to conditions attached to planning consents such as the levels of affordable housing, recreational facilities and public art that have to be provided.

In particular it is a response to developers complaining that having to contribute towards affordable housing is making schemes unviable.

The policy was backed by the Government to create a supply of homes below the market value for key workers but developers say this was during the property boom when prices were soaring. Now it is argued that it is deterring the building of apartments and houses.

In what would be a pioneering move, Sheffield is understood to examining a less rigid approach on a case-by-case basis that would encourage the construction of homes within the inner ring road. A report on easing so-called section 106 planning agreements is being prepared for the council’s cabinet.

Concerns of developers and architects were illustrated as the council gave the go-ahead to Campbell Homes for a £2.8m block of student flats at Shalesmoor after deciding no payment should be made initially towards affordable housing.

Sheffield-based architects Coda Studios were “delighted” that the proposed complex for up to 71 students at the corner of Bedford Street and Penistone Road had received council approval, which they said would generate new homes, investment and jobs for the city.

But Coda Studios director David Cross expressed frustration at a planning process which placed “great emphasis” on what had become the “dinosaur policy” of affordable housing.

“We successfully secured planning consent for our first major application of 2011 after working very hard with the local planning authority, who have been exceptional throughout this application.

“This development will no doubt inject millions of pounds of investment into the local community, lift a derelict site into proper use and create countless jobs that are sorely needed right now.”

Mr Cross said there was a “lack of understanding” among some councillors of the “real issues” facing developers and construction workers and the policy of affordable housing contributions, which was making the planning process more complex.

“Now we have seen the market collapse we need to assist the delivery of new homes to the market to ensure that jobs and investment are secured for the city once more.

“The sad fact is that as an architects’ practice we delivered over a thousand new homes to the market in four years from 2003 to 2007 and in the past three years it is likely to be less that 100.

“Whilst affordability is less of an issue through the falling of house prices, we are seeing a disastrous supply of properties to the market that will only fuel the affordability issue.

“The headline-grabbing desire to secure affordable housing in the city is in fact only stalling the delivery of new homes to the market and investment to the city – the fact that so many developers are challenging and succeeding in making no contribution is only testament to the reality that the policy is not working and should be re-addressed immediately.”

Mr Cross called for a non-political debate on the issue “in a city where brownfield regeneration is critical for the continuing redevelopment of the city in terms of jobs, homes, investment and the environment”.

He said: “Sheffield could be a leading light in the UK and throw its arms open and embrace developers to create the first ‘affordable housing free zone’ and start delivering new sustainable developments rather than just talking about it.

“After all, profit doesn’t have to be a dirty word.”