Decision by Shropshire taken against the advice of officers following concerns over affordable housing provision

Shropshire councillors have turned down delayed plans for the 1,000-home redevelopment of the former Ironbridge Power Station against the advice of officers.

The decision, made at a planning committee last week, came following concerns over the fact the scheme proposed by developer Harworth Group was to include just 50 affordable homes, rather than the 200 that would be expected under the council’s planning policies.

Harworth Group, which submitted the application for the 350 acre site in December 2019 (pictured below), had agreed with officers to provide 5% of the 1,000 homes as affordable, plus a financial contribution of £16.75 to pay for off-site infrastructure. Shrophsire council’s planning policies state that developments should provide 20% affordable housing where viability allows.

The scheme, which straddles two local authority boundaries, was approved by neighbouring Telford and Wrekin council earlier in the year, and Shropshire’s planning officers had recommended councillors likewise approve the scheme. 

The refusal by Shropshire councillors came after members deferred making decision on the scheme at a June planning committee meeting, in order to seek further clarification over the developer’s affordable housing offer, which was supported by a viability report from consultant Tustain.

Councillors had questioned why the viability report by Tustain painted such a different picture from the viability assessment of the site conducted as part of the production of the council’s local plan, which concluded the site was viable.

ironbridge-cgi-1 Harworth Group

Since then, the council employed Matthew Spilsbury of agent CBRE to independently assess Tustain’s viability review. Spilsbury “validated” its conclusions, an officer report to the committee said.

Spilsbury said the the local plan assessment had been “caveated” as “subject to remediation and infrastructure costs which were to be confirmed”, and had also assumed development values that were more optimistic than local data suggested, accounting for the difference between the two assessments.

Ironbridge power station was constructed in 1963 and ceased electricity generation in 2015, with the site being bought by Harworth in 2018 for £6.5m.

Shropshire council has not issued a formal decision notice following the refusal, however, a council spokesperson said in a statement: “The application does not provide adequate funding to mitigate concerns about the effect of the proposed development on highway infrastructure, particularly at Much Wenlock, and also healthcare provision.

“Additionally the 5% level of affordable housing falls significantly below the requirements of Core Strategy Policy CS11 (20%) and is considered inadequate for a significant development of this nature. Accordingly the development is considered to be unsustainable and in conflict with development plan policy.”

David Cockroft, regional director for the Midlands at Harworth, said the firm was “disappointed and surprised” that the plans had been rejected. He said its plans would transform the former industrial site into a sustainable new community, and had been developed with stakeholders “every step of the way”. “In rejecting our plans, the committee has chosen to disregard the recommendation of the council’s planning officers and various reports supported by their own independent experts,” he said. “This decision also lies in stark contrast to the approval given to the same Ironbridge plans by neighbouring Telford & Wrekin Council in May.”

Harworth declined to say if it plans to appeal the decision.