Category Archives: Woodbridge

Melton Hill – not only how but who?

Looking at Melton Hill – or as Woodbridge residents have taken to calling it, the Cheese Wedges – it is hard for the outside viewer to disentangle the intentions of the developer, what with their sudden last-minute appeal on the second application AND this simultaneous  third application.

Firstly, I think it is perfectly reasonable that  developer’s intentions be viewed with suspicion.  Their first application promised 32/33 ‘affordable’ units and was withdrawn a year ago to be replaced with a further application on the spurious grounds that Active Urban  ‘had become aware of the ability to seek to claim Vacant Building Credit’. This, they claimed, would ‘legitimately reduce the level of affordable housing’ to 11 units because ‘AUWL have concerns about the scheme’s viability’ in ’this brownfield site.’

This is pretty cynical, bearing in mind that Melton Hill was vacated for this development.  It was working offices up till that moment.

Active Urban now say the site is too expensive – but this seems pretty par for the development course doesn’t it? It is a far from unusual justification of developers when they do not wish to build affordable housing.

The issue is therefore surely not whether Suffolk Coastal might have been too greedy in asking the price they did for the site – after all, Active Urban didn’t HAVE to offer for it – but that Suffolk Coastal made such a curious choice in seeking to monetise a publicly owned site for what seems such relatively small short-term gain.  A real case of pawning the family silver to pay for the housekeeping, instead of investing it in long-term benefits for the people who owned it – us.

As I have suggested before, making the site a Community Land Trust, providing housing at social rent – and maybe some housing that was shared-ownership, though never sold – would have been a wonderful and useful legacy for a District Council that had failed so dismally to provide the housing that local residents so clearly need. (See several blog pieces I have written to this effect over the last couple of years).

Some are maintaining that the third application has restored the status quo in terms of affordable housing?  Not quite.  The unit numbers may be the same but there are now 12.5% fewer bedrooms for affordable housing than there were on the first application. What is now on offer is a mere 8 x 1 bedroom flats for social rent and 24 flats (1 and 2 bedrooms) for intermediate housing – which is a much vaguer concept. The number, type, size and tenure are not in accordance with the Local Plan.

One cannot help but note that the  Growth and Infrastructure Act, introduced in 2013 to reduce the red tape that current governments are too willing to claim hampers growth, allows developers to renegotiate ‘economically unviable’ section 106 agreements  on stalled housing developments.  This of course makes it advantageous for the developer to feel stalled. It is recognised that this Act has a particular impact on affordable housing provision.

Another concern I have is the for-profit element in the affordable housing. The stated provider is Sage Housing – a for-profit organisation, majority-owned by the US real estate giant Blackstone. (You can find articles in the FT about these funds which aim to return 8% to investors at the expense of those who are in need of affordable homes). Sage finances  section106 agreements but then contracts out the day to day running of the affordable units. Their shared ownership plans seem to require a minimum 40% share to be acquired at market value (and sometimes 75%) which seems a far cry from the affordable needs of local people who will have to rent on top of that amount plus fees plus a management charge for the use of common areas.

We need to question whether Active Urban are behaving as if they are an appropriate developer for this site. I think the new East Suffolk council should look closely at the mess and confusion they have inherited, and consider again what might be the best way forward for the people of this area

Woodbridge Caterpillar Children’s Centre threatened with closure

ATTENTION WOODBRIDGE! 

Suffolk County Council seems to be proposing to close our Caterpillar Children’s Centre, without option.

At least, there will be a consultation in September. But county Cabinet papers for our centre have approved  3 options for consultation – and each is the same: ‘Closure’.

Remarkably, the first time I heard of this – despite the Caterpillar being a County Council-run operation, and I being the County Councillor for Woodbridge – was when I read it in the East Anglian Daily Times. How disrespectful to Woodbridge and its residents.

I asked the relevant Suffolk county Cabinet Member – face to face – why this was the case, but have yet to receive  a satisfactory answer.

Maybe he is unaware that the Caterpillar Centre is a much valued resource for Woodbridge and district young families . It provides a safe space where parents can talk through their concerns with other parents and a range of professionals while their young children (0-5 years) can participate in a wide range of activities.  As the County Council’s leaflet (you can find it here) points out, as well as many other  programmes a great deal of important work is done with young children with special educational needs and disabilities.

This early intervention saves money AND unhappiness later on, and supports future social cohesion with benefits for everyone.

Woodbridge Resident Ashley Meyer and County Councillor Caroline Page are deeply concerned about the threatened closure of Woodbridge’s Caterpillar Children’s centre

Ashley Meyer, Woodbridge resident, and a long-term nursery school governor says, “County Councillor Gordon Jones  states that some of this work can be done by parents making contact with professionals through Facebook.  I believe this thinking shows a misunderstanding of how Children’s Centres work.   It is the ability to attend the Children’s Centres over a prolonged period of time and to meet other parents and professionals face- to- face that is so valuable for parents who are isolated and vulnerable. This proposed closure is therefore an attack on the future of our community!”

Ashley Meyer is URGENTLY organizing a non party-political campaign to fight closure. I am strongly supporting this as County Councillor.

Please contact Ashley asap on
Ashley.meyer@sky.com
07960 923125

Please note there will be a  March against Children’s Centres closures and cuts across Suffolk Coastal on  Saturday 14th September, 2019, starting Elmhurst Park, 11am

Melton Hill – the wedges strike back

New plans for the Melton Hill development have been submitted- and surprise, surprise, they are pretty much the same as before. If you want to write, do so by Thursday 25th  July (Link here – though you will be given a little latitude to get in submissions after this date. However officers will start examining the application week beginning 29th July ).                   

Here is my response

I am writing as County Councillor for Woodbridge to comment on new plans submitted for the  Melton Hill development of the former Suffolk Coastal District council offices.

These seem to be very similar to the original plans, which is disappointing.

Current national planning policy “seeks to significantly boost the supply of homes through a sufficient amount and variety of land that will come forward where it is needed, to meet the needs of groups with specific housing requirements”.

Accordingto the Suffolk Coastal Local Plan, the District Council “shares the government’s ambition and is seeking to deliver sustainable communities across the District.”

It seems strange therefore that the significant need that clearly exists in Woodbridge: indeed the overwhelming need for affordable housing for the town’s young families, home-leavers, down-sizers, people with disabilities, low-earners is not at the heart of this development.

It is also strange that in the very recent past the district council had proposed extending the conservation boundary for Woodbridge town to include such buildings as “Council Offices No 112 Thoroughfare – A substantial mid nineteenth century classical villa constructed of white brick with projecting eaves and a slate roof. Much of its original external joinery survives,“ and even mentioning favourably the mid C20 redbrick council offices next to it. The rationale was clear: “extending the conservation boundary would contribute significantly to safeguarding the setting of the GII listed Maltings cottage, Melton Hill, and no  42 Deben Road, … It would also afford protection to a number of presently unlisted structures that make a strong positive contribution to the character of this part of town.”

Surely the only reason this aspiration can have been omitted from the recent consultation on Woodbridge’s Conservation boundary is because elements within the District Council have predetermined that 112 Thoroughfare should be destroyed –  to facilitate development of a frontage containing the brick, aluminium and concrete ‘Block E”? This cannot be right. Continue reading Melton Hill – the wedges strike back