Monday 8 June 2015

Derwent Street housing development - - - - is this what Belper needs?

In an earlier post we looked at Derbyshire County Council's plans for the Thornton's Factory site and now it is the turn of the planned housing development. Unfortunately we are not so enthusiastic about the plans that gained the approval of the AVBC planning committee on ...... well ............. looking on the Amber Valley Borough Council website this seems to be unclear.

The BBC featured this development on 4th April article link but reference to the AVBC planning website shows that this approval is incomplete and still at the "outline" stage.

Derwent Street -planned housing development for 107 dwellings
To clarify the position BelperStuff contacted the planning department and spoke to Derek Stafford (Assistant Director for Planning & Regeneration) who stated that final approval was dependent on the completion of a contractual arrangement between the relevant councils and the developers on supportive infrastructure, basically who pays and who provides public spaces and amenities and a consideration of the impact on local schools. No completion date for this process was to hand. It would seem to be quite normal (and proper) for a scheme of this magnitude to be subject to such protracted negotiations. It does however feel like a fait accompli (a done job).

The drainage and sewage plan still awaits finalisation but hopefully this will not be a monetary consideration for local government; the water industry was privatised by the Tories claiming that such a move would provide better services - let them prove it - and with a conservatively estimated (admittedly by BelperStuff) water, drainage and sewage annual income of a minimum £40,000 from the 107 households, any additional investment should be borne by the water companies.

Looking at the plan it is evident that the three large buildings spaced along the top of the site must be multi occupation which, if made up of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments would be a welcome addition to Belper housing stock as such accommodation is much needed in the town. In the 2011 Census, 31% of Belper Central residents were living alone with only 15% of housing being suitable for them. Many who live on their own would welcome the chance to downsize from homes more suited to family occupation.

Reading through the AVBC planning report upon which outline approval was granted these comments are noteworthy:

6. Housing Strategy Officer This site falls into the Belper local housing market area which has a high demand for affordable housing. In line with Council policy the development should consist of 30% affordable housing with a mix of social rented and intermediate housing. The rented accommodation should represent at least 90% of the affordable housing total, which has been identified as the tenure that can meet most needs of households living within the borough on low incomes. The current Derby Strategic Housing Market Assessment update (July 2013) has indicated that housing need could be met with a mix of affordable housing that consists of approximately 72% social/affordable rented and 22% intermediate housing. The intermediate housing would help households that could not afford market rent/sales but could afford more than social rented accommodation. It is suggested that the latter tenure mix will help with the viability of developments. The affordable house types in most demand are 2-bedroom family houses and 1 bedroom general need apartments. The proximity of this site does however provide an ideal opportunity to also deliver specific affordable accommodation for either people over retirement age and/or other vulnerable groups (bungalows and apartments).

........................... to be honest this is somewhat unclear. Has the target 30% affordable housing been met and  ................ are the proposed dwellings of the 1 and 2 bedroom variety as stated in the Housing Strategy Officer's contribution?

Site of 4 proposed dwellings to the south of Derwent St.
The report also states that the 4 dwellings situated to the bottom right corner of the plan, effectively the only houses planned for the south of Derwent Street, should be avoided if possible. So, have they been agreed?

Firestone House to be demolished
The other report recommendation was that Firestone House should be retained if possible. This is a relatively new building which has never been used although there have been planning applications amending the planned use. Now it is deemed surplus to requirements though on the plan the space it occupies will only be used as limited parking space. What a waste of money and potential.

The plan also shows the most southerly of the 3 apartment buildings being crammed into the fenced off area which can be seen in the adjacent photograph, the back wall being hard up against the site south eastern boundary, effectively close to the front bumpers of the cars parked in this photograph. It is to be expected that the eventual build will differ from the plan but hopefully any amendment would be subject to a change of scheme application to be made to the AVBC planning department.

This post is a very limited appraisal of this scheme. The overall impression is that this is a wasted opportunity for Belper, the chance to build a stylish and affordable Riverside Community being lost because unremitting cuts to both local government power and the ability of public bodies to raise finance to invest in such schemes has been frittered away by Westminster. We now have to depend on private development initiatives, in this case a failed Tesco development being parceled up and sold off to limit the losses from previously bullish, expansionary plans that were always over optimistic. Is this the way to care for our town's future?

Despite brave attempts to offer an alternative narrative ............. who can forget the exciting architecture promoted by the Civic Forum ........... instead of Belper leading the way with innovative town centre regeneration it looks as if we will be stuck for years to come with yet more 3 bed semis. For those of us who have seen what is possible this is heartbreaking. The chance to build well insulated, low energy homes with 21st century know-how rather than yet another rehash of outdated thinking is symptomatic of a country that fails to tackle the real issues with which we are confronted.

Affordable housing in a small town near Berlin
The above is an example of how housing need is tackled in other countries. This development is predominantly 12 x 2 bedroom apartments (average of 75 square metres) per building, with underground parking, high insulation thus low energy consumption and wonderful communal green spaces and safe play areas. The plans for Derwent Street suggest that on a similar footprint we would build 4 homes with parking. Such a scheme as this one in Germany could be easily adapted to fit in with the architectural feel of Belper, far better than the blight of suburban blandness that the current Derwent Street scheme offers. The prime objective of developers is to make money so why is it unthinkable to maximise town centre land use in a similar way to this German model. It doesn't cost any extra per household and offers the chance to exploit the potential of collective alternative energy production and significantly reduces the area of built on land.

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