Developers must understand we need affordable housing

A police car parked outside Catherine House in Stanhope Road, Portsmouth, earlier tonight. Picture: Byron Melton

UPDATE: Man, 20, arrested after ‘suspicious object’ is found at student halls in Portsmouth city centre

A developer which 'couldn't afford' to build low-cost housing in Portsmouth is now offering the land for £750,000.

Churchill Retirement Living Ltd sparked anger when it won the right not to build affordable homes at 128 Milton Road, Milton.

Portsmouth City Council normally demands 30 per cent of new homes be sold at a discounted rate to help people get on the ladder.

But this was waived for Churchill after the firm said it wouldn't make a 20 per cent profit on the development of four houses and 20 flats.

Now its move to sell the land for the homes and flats at high cost has led to more anger.

Tory Councillor Donna Jones said: 'It beggars belief that in a city where we have such a great need for affordable housing, a firm should be allowed to build something at benefit to itself, without any low-cost homes at all.

'And now they have offered the land they were to build the houses on to developers' agents, it just adds insult to injury.

'We must make sure developers understand we need affordable housing and we can't just stand by and let them ignore that.'

Churchill, which is also building 76 sheltered accommodation flats on the Milton Road site, took advantage of a loophole in the council's regulations, which exists to make sure development can take place during an economic downturn.

It argued it wouldn't be financially viable to build affordable housing because social accommodation takes longer to sell than normal housing, so it wouldn't make enough money fast enough to sell the homes cheaply.

Andrew Burgess, the managing director of Planning Issues, Churchill Retirement Living's planning consultants, said: 'What we've done is quite a legitimate process. The council needs development, and needs social housing. The site has sat empty for a long time and the council knows that could continue, so its policy was designed to enable the housing to get built. We are offering the land for sale because while we will build the sheltered element, another company could build the 22 flats and four houses to be sold on the open market.'

But Cllr Mike Hancock, who's responsible for planning at the city council, said: 'I am unhappy the planning committee accepted this development without affordable housing. But we will have to look closely at the regulation, because companies shouldn't be able to build here unless they agree to things which benefit the city.

'We will make sure this can't happen again.'