Members of the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s planning committee clashed in public last night over the planning application to redevelop the former Robert Smith car showroom at 88 Windsor Road Penarth into 12 apartments and a commercial gymnasium.
Councillors weren’t too bothered about the detailed plans – but they locked horns in political combat when it came to discussing the amount of so-called “Section 106” money that the Vale Council would – or, arguably, should – receive from the developers to “mitigate” the effect of the development on the community at large.
The car showroom and former garage is a categorised as a “brownfield site” – sandwiched between the Penarth/Cardiff railway line at the back and Windsor Road at the front.
The scheme involves demolishing most of the rear of the building, retaining the original (Moorwell Motors) fascia, building a basement car park and creating 12 brand new apartments for private residential accommodation around a courtyard to be created in the centre of the site.
The projected cost of building work is so high the developers have persuaded the District Valuer and the Vale of Glamorgan Council that they they couldn’t afford to pay more than £26,264 by way of a Section 106 payment – otherwise the venture would not be a viable proposition.
In the Vale of Glamorgan planning committee meeting last night the debate predictably boiled down to a straightforward argument about whether the recommended Section 106 payment being offered by the developers and approved by the District Valuer (i.e. the sum of £26,264 ) – was acceptable.
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour St Augustines) said he welcomed the redevelopment of what he described as an “eyesore” – but said that the recommended £26,264 figure was – as he put it – “risible” . He demanded that the developers pay a Section 106 contribution “North of half a mil.” [ i.e. more than £500,000].
He asserted that it had already been established that St Augustine’s Ward had “the lowest proportion of social housing in Penarth”. Cllr Thomas said “Unfortunately this development not only does nothing to improve that awful position, it in fact makes it worse”.
[PDN Note: In fact the residents of St Augustines Ward appear NOT to want to have yet more social tenants accommodated in their already densely-populated ward – as has become clear in the public debate over the redevelopment of St Paul’s Church. It is said, however, that the Labour Party wants more social tenants in the ward – because they will vote Labour.]
Pressing on, Cllr Thomas said the council should expect 40% of the 12 apartments be allocated as “social housing” and “affordable” housing. He calculated that this would mean that, of the 12 new private apartments, 5 of them should be allocated as social housing [for renting to hard-up tenants] or as “affordable” apartments [i,e new properties sold at a discount to buyers who cannot afford the full retail price].
The developers are not, in fact, proposing to provide any social housing at all.
[PDN Note: It is being claimed that the extra costs to the council of providing schools, roads and social housing associated with private residential developments like Sainte Adresse (a.k.a. Northcliff Lodge) falls on council taxpayers – unless, that is, developers hand over an acceptable wad of Section 106 cash to “mitigate” the knock-on effects of their schemes.]
Cllr Thomas said the development of the former Robert Smith premises represented a forthcoming cost to the community of at least “half a million”.
Cllr Thomas said “The message to developers is ‘Build in Penarth and the Vale Council will make local-taxpayers subsidise your profits’ – because there WILL be profits on this”. He claimed the developers were expecting to make at least “a 20% profit”. He opposed the development and said it should be “sent back to be re-designed to a degree that it is viable and can make a reasonable contribution to the community”
However Cllr Jonathan Bird (Conservative Wenvoe) was not in the least persuaded by Cllr Thomas’s left-of-centre arithmetic. He told Cllr Thomas “Do you know, I am just staggered at that reaction actually “ and proceeded to give Cllr Thomas a lesson in the basic economics of property development.
Cllr Bird told Cllr Thomas “You said that the place was an ‘eyesore’ and you wanted it developed . It’s not going to be developed if you insist on having [Section 106] money and the developer is making no profit at all – in fact probably making a LOSS at that level”.
Cllr Bird reminded Cllr Thomas that the Vale Council’s Planning Officer Victoria Robinson had already explained that the planning guidance was to go for the “the best case scenario” – [ i.e. the best achievable outcome bearing in mind all the planning regulations and the fundamental viability of the project ] .
Cllr Bird explained that “When you’re in certain areas, you can’t sell for high amounts – and” – turning to Cllr Thomas – said “I’m just staggered that you can’t understand that”.
Cllr Thomas may have attempted to say something at this point but his microphone was muted and his protests – if that’s what they were – went unheard.
Cllr Bird moved to have a vote in favour of the Vale of Glamorgan planning officers’ recommendation to give planning permission to the scheme.
Cllr Bird’s motion was rapidly seconded by Cllr Leighton Rowlands (Conservative Dyfan) and planning permission was duly AWARDED for the scheme – subject to it being completed within 24 months and subject to the developer paying the council the recommended Section 106 payment of £26,264.