Councillors have promised “stricter conditions” for developers submitting future planning applications after being forced to “rescue” a provision for affordable homes from a housing development in Holt.

Developer Hopkins Homes was accused of putting “a gun to the head” of councillors and forcing them to approve a plan to cut 23 affordable homes from a 52-house development off Hempstead Road.

The Suffolk-based company was given the green light for the project in 2020, on the condition that a section of the houses built were classed as affordable.

However, Hopkins claimed in February that selling them at sub-market rates would not be “viable”. It was “with a heavy heart” that North Norfolk District Council’s planning committee cut the provision from the development last week.

The houses were instead sold at “near market level” - at prices councillors “did not feel comfortable with” - to a housing association, with funding from the government.

North Norfolk News: The site in Holt where Hopkins Homes are building 52 new houses (Image: Google Maps)The site in Holt where Hopkins Homes are building 52 new houses (Image: Google Maps) (Image: Google)

READ MORE: Developer faces criticism over Holt affordable homes cut

Wendy Fredericks, portfolio holder for housing and benefits at North Norfolk District Council, said she will now implement “stricter conditions on planning applications”, to ensure that provisions for affordable homes are met by developers going forward.

“I’m changing the checklist for when they put forward applications for mixed use developments with affordable homes, and I will now be asking for a viability report on application,” she said.

“I’m absolutely delighted that we have been able to rescue the affordable houses because those homes are so badly needed.

“To lose those houses would’ve been absolutely disastrous for north Norfolk and that’s why we had to act quickly to negotiate, because if we hadn’t we would’ve lost them.

“We want to encourage developers with a social conscience to come forward and assist us to build more afford homes in the future.”

North Norfolk News: Councillor Wendy FredericksCouncillor Wendy Fredericks (Image: Newquest)

The houses will now be available to rent, with some being of shared ownership for people “who want to buy but cannot afford to pay full market prices”.

Mrs Fredericks said North Norfolk District Council sets a goal to build 100 new affordable homes each year, which it is currently not meeting.

She said that the housing crisis has meant there are not enough homes in north Norfolk, with “between 50 and 60 homeless households” currently in the district.

The plan to reduce affordable housing at the development off Hempstead Road was originally heard in February – at a meeting Hopkins did not attend. 

North Norfolk District Council officers worked with housing association Flagship Homes to buy the 23 homes from the developer using government grant funding as well as Section 106 money – cash from developers to provide community infrastructure. 

Councillors debated the application for an hour, with heavy criticism for the developer, before eventually approving it.

Tim Adams, leader of North Norfolk District Council, said the council “made the best of a bad situation” by securing the houses, and called for more affordable homes in Holt.

“We’re very upset and disappointed with Hopkins,” he said.

“We didn’t feel comfortable about the value at all, and they were not the prices we would’ve liked.

“However, there might not have been another opportunity to source government funding at a later date.

“We can’t continue like this. Developers are squeezing themselves out of provisions for affordable homes.”

North Norfolk News: Councillor Tim Adams Councillor Tim Adams (Image: Supplied)

Jonathan Lieberman, head of planning at Hopkins Homes, said they were "pleased to have arrived at a resolution", and that the scheme would be going ahead.

He said: "It was always our aim to provide 23 affordable homes at this development. However, it became unviable to do so as originally planned, and the challenges we faced were agreed upon by the district council.

"These challenges included the significant rise in construction and supply costs in the industry at a time when the average house price increase is at a slower rate."

Mr Lieberman insisted the developer considers affordable housing to be a "key consideration" in all applications.