Decision could see more blocks of flats for city

None of the 432 apartments will be classed as “affordable” housing.

This article first appeared in the South Wales Echo on April 16, 2016

ALEX SEABROOK South Wales Echo Local Democracy Reporter · Apr 16, 2021

TWO huge apartment blocks could be built in the heart of Cardiff – depending on a decision next week.

Developers want to build 432 flats on the site of the Anchor Industrial Estate on Dumballs Road, just south of Cardiff and Vale College. The buildings currently there would be demolished.

Cardiff council’s planning committee is set to decide whether to approve the development, which is just half a mile from the city centre, at a meeting on Wednesday.

The two blocks would consist of 252 one-bed and 180 two-bed apartments, with balconies, a gym and home-working space. One block would be 16 storeys high and the other nine storeys.

None of the 432 apartments will be classed as “affordable” housing.

The council asked the developers, Angelo Gordon and Ridgeback Group, for £7,768,719.78p in Section 106 money – a rule in which developers pay for local public services like schools and parks, and to put money towards affordable housing.

But the developers said paying this much money to the council would make the development “not viable”, meaning their profit would not be worth it for building the flats. Instead, they agreed with council planning officers to pay just £718,864 instead.

That’s less than 10% of what the council’s planning policy says they should pay. Most of the money the council asked for – £6,569,892 – was to fund affordable housing elsewhere in the city. But the developers will not pay a penny towards affordable housing. They will, however, fund community facilities, school places, and footpaths and cycle lanes.

The council commissioned the District Valuer, quantity surveyors working for the government, to assess a “viability appraisal”. This looked at how much the developers stand to make from the flats. This assessment was not published alongside planning documents.

The District Valuer said the scheme would not be viable and therefore cannot provide the required Section 106 money.

Writing to the council, Lyn Eynon, a campaigner with Cardiff Civic Society, said this problem frequently occurred in Cardiff, and claimed some developers have previously paid more for land than it is actually worth, predicting they will later be able to whittle down Section 106 money owed.

Mr Eynon said: “The viability case has become self-validating. The expectation that a viability assessment will reject the Section 106 calculation by council officers has become built into the valuation of development land.

“This higher land price then justifies the developer’s case that affordable units would make an application unviable.

“The council must act to break this vicious cycle, which benefits landowners at the expense of Cardiff residents who need affordable homes. This would be a large development and the council should this time act in the interests of those it claims to represent.”

These claims are backed up by research from housing charity Shelter, which shows how the problem is widespread and not confined to Cardiff.

The charity found in 2017 that in 11 local authorities in England, when developers used viability assessments, new housing sites contained just 7% affordable homes – far below the average of the councils’ policies of a 28% minimum.

The research also showed 44% of new developments in the study had their affordable housing provision whittled down using viability assessments. This means thousands of affordable homes which developers should be building aren’t getting built.

The Shelter researchers said: “Flexibility in the viability system has driven down affordable housing provision at the expense of land price inflation, essentially making development more expensive”.

Cardiff council planning officers said despite not providing any affordable housing, the Dumballs Road development would play a “key role” in delivering the local development plan. In a report, they recommended the planning committee approve permission.

They said: “The scheme would bring a vacant, underused site into beneficial use with associated regeneration benefits; would promote efficient use of land; make a positive contribution to housing supply; and deliver a resource-efficient and climate-responsive design.

“The provision of active uses along Dumballs Road, a new landscaped public square, a landscaped pedestrian and cycle through-route to Canal Park are all warmly welcomed, as is the provision of landscape, public realm and highway improvements along Dumballs Road.”

Architects for the developers described the redevelopment as a “substantial investment” in the Dumballs Road area, one of the key regeneration sites chosen by the council.

In planning documents, they said: “The project represents a substantial investment in this re-emergent city district, which will augment an increasingly important link between the city core and Cardiff Bay.“We aim here to embrace the European city approach – advocated as one of the main key aims of the Cardiff local development plan – and take pointers from good examples of European apartment blocks, with live ground-floor uses which make streets characterful.”

Up until the 1980s the Dumballs Road area was mostly industrial buildings, but now is made up of a mix of offices, schools and colleges, residential and some leftover industry.

Other major plans in the area include building 2,500 homes on the other side of Dumballs Road, next to the River Taff and south of Penarth Road; bars, restaurants and offices at the former Brains brewery; and a 27-storey tower of apartments on Curran Road.

As noted above, this article first appeared in the South Wales Echo on April 16, 2021.

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