Councils offering “lucrative loopholes’ to developers, says housing charity

A major developer which bought land from a golf club will not have to build affordable housing due to a “loophole” which critics have condemned in light of Scotland’s “housing emergency”.

CALA Homes has bought land from Dunbar Golf Club on which it plans to build 78 new homes. But as the project is billed as an “enabling development”, the housebuilder will not have to meet East Lothian Councils usual policy of making 25 per cent of the homes affordable.

New housing development can be given “enabling” status if it facilitates new rural development like agriculture, forestry or countryside recreation, or businesses that require a countryside location, according to the council’s local development plan.

Critics include the housing charity Shelter Scotland. It called for the reassessment of policies offering “lucrative loopholes” to housebuilders which allow them to avoid affordable housing contributions.

The Scottish Greens urged the council to stick to its own development plans “instead of deferring to profiteers”. Both the council and CALA said they were committed to delivering affordable homes.

Providing affordable homes is an urgent need in both urban and rural settings, and it is very disappointing that private developers are given loopholes to avoid building them.

Lorna Slater, Co-leader of Scottish Greens and Lothians MSP

The golf club was founded in 1856 and charges a standard membership fee of £1811.50 for the first year. Along with CALA, it is pitching the new housing development as “enabling” as money from the land sale will be used to cross fund new facilities including a £3.6m clubhouse, nine-hole course, golf academy and driving range.

But the enabling development “loophole” has been harshly criticised by Shelter in light of Scotland’s “housing emergency”, which the charity says impacts more than 1.5m people.

“Edinburgh and its neighbouring local authorities like East Lothian have the highest levels of people living in housing need,” said Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland’s director. “They are precisely where affordable homes, and in particular social homes, are needed.

“Policies that offer lucrative loopholes to developers and landowners to avoid contributing to affordable housing must be re-examined if enough of the right homes are going to be built in the right places.”

The Scottish Greens were also highly critical of the policy. “Providing affordable homes is an urgent need in both urban and rural settings, and it is very disappointing that private developers are given loopholes to avoid building them,” said Lorna Slater, the party’s co-leader and Lothians MSP.

“I would urge East Lothian Council to meet the commitments in its own local development plan at least, and to start to build resilient communities and look towards 20 minute neighbourhoods, instead of deferring to profiteers.”

East Lothian Council stressed it remains committed” to increasing local affordable housing supply, but confirmed this does not apply to developments like the one pitched by CALA and Dunbar Golf Club.

“Development proposals of five dwellings or more are generally expected to make provision for affordable housing as part of their proposal,” said a spokesperson. “An exception to this is enabling housing development in the countryside.

“To ensure that the minimum amount of new housing is provided in sensitive countryside locations, our local development plan confirms that it is not expected for such proposals to include affordable housing.”

The council’s planning authority would consider the application “once it has been registered as a valid planning application”, the spokesperson added.

Dunbar Golf Course (housing)
Dunbar Golf Course, photo by Lisa Jarvis

Speculative housing development’

The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland argued that the CALA development did not feature in the council’s local development plan, which had already earmarked thousands of homes elsewhere in East Lothian.

This includes “1,255 [homes] in Dunbar – a substantial number for a town whose current population is only about 9,000,” said John Mayhew, director. “The golf course is not one of those sites.”

“This is a speculative housing development similar to many others across Scotland,” he argued. “The Scottish Government repeatedly stresses that Scotland should have a plan-led planning system.

“East Lothian Council should therefore refuse this application, and if the developer appeals against refusal then the Scottish Government should back the council and refuse it too – otherwise all the talk of a plan-led system is meaningless and local communities will continue to lose faith in the system.“

A spokesman for CALA Homes (East) said: “The proposals for Dunbar Golf Club have been created in close collaboration with the club, council planners and the local community, in order to achieve a redevelopment that maximises benefits for the club and the wider Dunbar area.

“The development of new homes on this site would enable extensive improvements to the club, which have the potential to leave a powerful legacy in terms of sport, leisure and local prosperity.

“CALA is committed to supporting the delivery of affordable homes wherever possible. Over the past five years, more than 320 affordable homes have been delivered, or secured through planning consent, on CALA developments within East Lothian. These include developments in Dunbar, Haddington, Gullane and North Berwick.”

A spokesperson for Dunbar Golf Club said: “Dunbar Golf Club does not feel that it is in our remit to comment on local authority planning policies.”

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Lisa Jarvis

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