Nomination for Most Effective Housing Group - St Giles in the Wood.

 

Background

 

This project originated through the publication by the Parish Council of a Parish Plan which identified affordable housing as the parish’s highest priority. As a result, Torridge DC requested the Devon Rural Housing Enabler (RHE) service to initiate discussions with the Parish Council and, following a meeting with the RHEs in September 2006, a housing needs survey (HNS) was undertaken to establish the level of housing need in the parish.

 

Project feasibility

 

The HNS was completed in May 2007 and, following acceptance by the Parish Council in July 2007, members worked with the RHE to identify a number of sites in and around the village. In October 2007 the RHE sought views from DCC highways and then initiated a number of meetings with the relevant landowners to establish their willingness to provide land for affordable housing on ‘rural exception site’ terms. Following recommendations from Torridge DC and the RHE, Devon & Cornwall Housing (DCH) was invited to become involved. At an initial meeting with the Parish Council in February 2008, 2 favoured sites were identified. Further discussions with Torridge DC housing enablers and planners agreed “The Old Nursery” as the preferred site and, following negotiations with the landowner, terms for purchase were agreed in principle in November 2008. A DCH project team was established and initial feasibility studies undertaken in early 2009. However, consequent to the landowner engaging a land agent to advise on the land price, protracted negotiations ensued before a realistic purchase price was finalised. Torridge DC and the Parish Council were very supportive and influential in helping to convince the land agent that a fair land price was being offered. In May 2009, terms of sale were agreed and project work-up continued.

 

Housing design and community consultation

 

The housing is based on DCH’s “Advantage Southwest” standard layouts for 6 X 2 bed, 4 person and 2 X 3 bed, 5 person houses. These have been designed to be

in keeping with an adjacent terrace of stone cottages featuring stonework porches and matching roofline features. Torridge DC has provided funding for the additional cost of the stonework. The provisional design and layout was agreed at an early meeting with the Parish Council and the final version displayed at a public consultation event, combined with a Parish Council meeting in October 2009. The Parish Council and the village community were unanimously supportive of the scheme, without a single objection being recorded.

 

Funding and planning

 

An initial bid for funding had been made to the Housing Corporation / Homes & Communities Agency but, following feedback to DCH, a revised bid was submitted with a lower grant requirement. This was at a difficult time for the HCA and it was clear that the project would need to proceed to planning approval before a grant allocation could be made. DCH therefore proceeded to conditional exchange of contracts for the land purchase and a planning application was submitted on 4 March. Because of HCA allocation pressures and requirements, it was vital that this project should be able to start-on-site prior to 30 April 2010. In order for this to happen, the Torridge DC housing enablers liaised with the Planning Officers to try to ensure the planning application was determined as soon as possible. The planners indicated that they would aim for the shortest possible timescale. The application was registered on 16 March and, despite the intervention of the Easter period, a commitment was given for the determination to be made in the week commencing 19 April. DCH had further revised the bid to reduce the grant requirement and, with the additional confidence given by the Torridge DC and Parish Council support, the allocation was confirmed by the HCA on 19 March. The Section 106 agreement was progressed in mid April, together with the Building Contract formalities. Formal planning approval was given on 29 April followed immediately by completion of the site purchase, signing the building contract and handing over the site to the contractor. The contractor confirmed that they had taken possession and secured the site that afternoon.

 

Completion of the 8 houses is scheduled for mid February 2011.

 

Special features of this project.

 

This nomination is intended to highlight the all-round co-operation and mutual support given by every group involved in this project, but with particular focus on the roles of the Parish Council and the RHEs as the prime movers in starting the project forward and providing further support at key stages when momentum could have faltered. From the start, this project has mirrored the recommended model for development of a rural housing site. From identification of the broad requirement for affordable housing in the Parish Plan through to the co-operation and liaison between all the agencies involved, particularly in the final stages, the development has attracted exemplary levels of support, awareness and willingness to work together to meet the housing needs of a small rural community.

 

St Giles in the Wood Parish Council have exhibited vision, understanding, co-operation, good communications, determination and patience in overseeing progress from a good idea to the reality of a start on site. The level of community support and the absence of any objectors is testimony to the council’s knowledge and effectiveness.

 

Torridge District Council has likewise shown vision, support, good communications, flexibility and a willingness to contribute financially, as well as  providing an excellent example of Good Practice through the corporate working between housing enabling and planning departments in the weeks leading up to the planning approval.

 

The Devon RHE service has provided a model of Good Practice for its all-round involvement, knowledge and support throughout all the stages of this project’s development.

 

In difficult times, the HCA always made it clear that this would be a project it would wish to support if planning could be achieved and grant criteria met. Although, in the circumstances in late 2009 / early 2010, an early funding commitment could not be made, the HCA was very clear about its requirements and encouraged continued development of the scheme. It demonstrated not only flexibility but also the Region’s support for rural housing by making the allocation prior to planning approval, thus enabling the start on site target to be achieved.

 

The project team (DCH, Trewin Design, Gates Construction Consultants, MBA Consultant Engineers, Pearce Construction (Barnstaple)) very much appreciate the support received from the Parish Council and all the agencies involved.

 

 

 

Alan Partridge, Development Policy Manager, Devon & Cornwall Housing.