Calls to remove affordable housing put on hold

A call to remove an affordable housing condition at the redeveloped former community school in Narberth has been put on hold, with hopes a compromise can be reached.

Back in 2020, the transformation of the long-empty former Narberth CP school site was given the green light by councillors.

The site had fallen into disrepair since it was vacated in 12 years before, with previous plans to redevelop it stalling.

At the 2020 planning meeting, an application from local businessman Andrew Rees, on behalf of a local consortium appointed as the preferred develop for the site by the council in 2018, was unanimously approved.

The proposal included the conversion and redevelopment for two retail units, one to be for food and drink, and a library, along with eight three-bedroom houses and three one-bedroom apartments above the library and one of the retail units.

The application to remove three affordable housing units was recommended to be approved at the April 25 meeting of Pembrokeshire County council’s planning committee.

Following the request to remove the affordable housing element, the authority commissioned the District Valuer’s Office (DVO) for an independent opinion on the viability of the development, with a report completed in January.

Its report says the residual land value of the site, which it lists at -£202,759 is substantially below the benchmark land value, listed at £248,001, that would be expected to make the scheme become viable.

“Evidence has been presented that clearly indicates that the development, that includes commercial space that would be of benefit to the town, a new library and much-needed housing provision, could not proceed if the required affordable housing provision were to be pursued.”

At the April 25 meeting, joint applicant – and local businessman – Andrew Rees stressed they were providing a library “rent-free” for a 125 year period, but said the viability of the scheme did not support affordable housing.

In a submitted statement, local member, Councillor Marc Tierney, told the committee: “I wish to make the committee aware that I have received concerns from residents, who share my disappointment, that the applicant seeks to remove a previous obligation to deliver affordable homes as part of their original application granted in 2020.

“I recognise that the present economic situation is difficult, but, I am regularly reminded of the need to provide affordable homes in Narberth where, like many parts of Pembrokeshire, environmental restrictions are curtailing our ambition to meet the desperate need for housing.

“Whilst three properties does not sound like a lot, it is difficult to see where any further development in Narberth might be possible at present or in the near future and the need for good quality, affordable homes continues to increase.”

Several members had voiced potential support to refuse the application, but heard fears it may leave the council open to legal challenge, as well as unsubstantiated fears voiced of a potential loss of the library if the rest of the development didn’t go ahead.

One of those who expressed his unease was committee chairman Jacob Williams, who said the recommendation put the committee in a “terrible position” where they were told “we have to make this decision [to approve]” despite “every other news story you see is about the housing crisis”.

Fellow committee members had raised the possibility of potential compromises including a lower number of affordable houses or a commuted sum of money being offered by the applicant.

After a lengthy discussion by members, Councillor Jamie Adams proposed the application be deferred, hoping it would “allow a bit of time” for a compromise to be reached, following further discussions between the applicant and the council to find a way forward.

The application was unanimously supported, with options to be explored and a report coming to a future meeting, including details on the library position.

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