Fears for site viability as minister rejects 2,550-home Countryside scheme over lack of social housing

Housebuilders and planners have hit out at a landmark decision by communities secretary John Denham to refuse planning permission for 2,550 homes on a greenfield site because not enough affordable housing was promised.

The development industry says the decision, over Countryside Properties’ adjoining Clay Farm and Glebe Farm schemes in Cambridgeshire, could worsen the problems of site viability in the recession and encourage councils to refuse to negotiate over planning conditions.

Denham: Refused planning permission
Denham: Refused planning permission

Denham rejected Countryside’s contention that it should be able to build a lower amount of affordable housing than the 40% called for by Cambridge council, despite the recommendation of the planning inspector that an agreement be negotiated.

Countryside had originally offered 16% affordable housing on the schemes, but had later said it was willing to offer 30%. It is understood it bought the sites speculatively for £57m in 2007, but the inquiry found them worth just £40m now.

Denham accepted the decision would make the site economically unviable, at least temporarily. He said, however, that the council’s affordable housing policy was more important than the requirement to keep a five-year supply of viable land.

Robin Tetlow, director a planning consultant Tetlow King, said: “The decision is quite remarkable in view of the planning guidance around the need for a five-year land supply. The worry is that you deliver less affordable housing by sticking to the principle of 40% because no homes end up getting built.”

Planning consultant Nigel Moor said: “The decision demonstrates a real lack of government flexibility on this issue.”

However, Peter Studdert, director of joint planning at Cambridge’s growth area, said: “This establishes an important principle that when prices fall, landowners must accept that land prices have to flex, not councils’ requirements.”

Countryside said it was “very disappointed” by the decision.