Developer bids to cut number of affordable homes at Larbert site

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Councillors have refused a plea from Avant Homes to build fewer affordable houses on its site in Larbert.

The housebuilders asked Falkirk Council to agree to modify the planning obligation attached to permission to build on land just off Larbert s Stirling Road - saying that otherwise the site would not be financially viable.

The existing legal agreement with the council - signed by the previous landowners - is that a quarter of the 93 new homes would be affordable housing.

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Initially, Avant proposed building 12 homes for social rent with a further 12 being sold at a proposed discount of 10 per cent off the market value.

The homes are being built on land off Stirling Road, Larbert next to Forth Valley Royal HospitalThe homes are being built on land off Stirling Road, Larbert next to Forth Valley Royal Hospital
The homes are being built on land off Stirling Road, Larbert next to Forth Valley Royal Hospital

However, as the houses, all medium-sized family homes, are expected to sell for around £220,000, even a 10 per cent discount would not put them in the 'affordable' range.

Avant's agent, Phil McLean, told the committee that offering a bigger discount was not possible as, like all housebuilders, Avant has been affected by the pandemic which has led to delays and shortages of materials that in turn have meant rising costs.

At a meeting of Falkirk Council's planning committee, Avant asked councillors if it could use a more flexible approach.

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Instead of offering discounted homes on-site, they suggested continuing to build the 12 socially rented houses but make a commuted payment the council could then use to provide the other 12 houses elsewhere.

After discussions with the District Valuer, Avant proposed paying £18,000 per unit - in total £216,000.

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However, some members of the planning committee were concerned that this new agreement would not help them meet the area's critical demand for affordable housing.

Councillors Gary Bouse and Laura Murtagh said they would have have preferred to see other options being brought forward.

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In particular, they would like to see more socially rented properties on the site, even if 24 was not possible.

Mr Bouse said: "To be honest, I'd rather have 20 socially rented houses than £200,000, because those eight extra houses we couldn't buy for £200,000."

Ms Murtagh added: "If we accept this commuted payment we are not going to be able to build the properties for that payment.

"If we want to increase the amount of affordable housing the onus will be on us and we'll have to take the financial hit on it."

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She said she believed that with more discussion they could find a solution that could help Avant and also be better for the council.

Councillor Bouse added that he had wider concerns about Section 75 agreements, saying there was a lack of clarity of information from the District Valuer which would help councillors make any decisions.

Some councillors - John McLuckie, Allan Nimmo and James Kerr - voted to give permission for the change to be made.

However, Ms Murtagh was supported by committee convener David Alexander along with Gary Bouse, Jim Blackwood, Gordon Hughes and Adanna McCue which meant the application was rejected.

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The controversial site, near Forth Valley Royal Hospital, was strongly opposed by a community campaign and planning permission was inititally refused by Falkirk Council, however this was then overturned by the Scottish Government.

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