THE landmark planning vision drawn up by city leaders for the future of York has been heavily criticised by an independent inspector, who says it could render huge housing proposals unviable.
Planning official David Vickery said City of York Council’s “core strategy”, a legal Government requirement, had numerous shortcomings, giving cause for “significant concerns”.
He questioned whether some residential developments would be viable at all, once additional costs such as affordable housing and transport works were factored in.
A public meeting has now been called for next month to discuss the issues raised.
The council’s document sets out plans for 16,000 new homes.
But Mr Vickery said the council had wrongly counted on unspecified “windfall” sites, such as industrial land, becoming available for housing, and said it had failed to adequately specify where almost a third of the new homes would go.
He said it was unclear whether the document complied with legal requirements and said he was concerned that:
• Of the 16,000 proposed dwellings, thousands do not have a specified location
• The strategy takes account of windfalls in the first ten years, but Government policy says this should not be done unless there is compelling evidence of genuine local circumstances that prevent specific sites being identified
• The policy fails to identify where, when and how the new swimming pool and community stadium would be provided
• The strategy does not seem to deal adequately with waste disposal.
He said locations for the extra homes should be clarified as a “vital strategic matter”, and also questioned whether developments would be viable after additional costs were included – such as requirements for affordable housing, sustainable construction, road schemes, renewable energy and green infrastructure.
He said: “I have not seen any evidence which shows that development would be deliverable when taking account of these additional costs requirements, together with the normal cost of development and on-site mitigation.
“Would there still be acceptable returns to a willing land owner and willing developer?
“I am concerned that there is no overall assessment of viability which justifies the affordable housing or renewable energy and sustainable construction policies.”
Mr Vickers’ comments were in a letter to people who had commented on the draft strategy, such as developers.
He was appointed to consider the council’s submitted strategy, which will guide development over the next two decades.
He said that from his initial reading of the strategy, he had “significant concerns regarding its compliance with the legal requirements and its potential soundness”.
An “exploratory meeting” will be held on April 23, when the council will have an opportunity to provide clarification and suggest how the inspector’s concerns might be addressed.
Richard Wood, the council’s assistant director of strategic planning and transport, said the inspector’s role was to examine the soundness of York’s plan.
He said: “Concerns have been raised by the inspector and we will be providing further information on these issues, which is normal practice. At this stage, the inspector has not yet reached any definite conclusions.
“The city faces complex planning challenges during a time when the national planning system is changing.
Early meetings are used in the planning process so that all parties can work constructively together to test and improve the plan. The council will be providing information to the inspector and at the public meeting.”
Developer John Reeves, of the Helmsley Group, said: “To date, developers’ protestations have been largely ignored by the council, but it seems someone independent [Mr Vickers] potentially thinks the same. Something has to give and that has to be a further loosening of affordable policies, as today’s targets are just not viable for developers and we need homes.”
Paul Cordock, a quantity surveyor and persistent critic of the council’s affordable housing policies, said: “Our concerns and criticisms have been vindicated.”