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Council planning committee rejects Pobl Group attempt to alter planning agreement

SWANSEA councillors turned down a developer’s bid to alter a legal agreement which would have saved it nearly £300,000 in community contributions.

Pobl Group has planning consent for 99 houses and flats at a former colliery in Gowerton but now says that building there will incur abnormal costs which it couldn’t have foreseen.

The social housing provider, therefore, wanted to change an agreement it signed with the council, which included a £369,076 education contribution.

Council officers said it would be acceptable to reduce this by £272,659 – the proportion earmarked for Gowerton Primary School – because there was now forecast to be many more unfilled places at the school than previously.

Officers also said a different type of pedestrian crossing on Gorwydd Road was acceptable and no less safe than the one set out in the legal agreement, saving Pobl a further £15,000.

Several members of the planning committee were dissatisfied with the proposed reduction of the education contribution, especially as the £369,076 figure itself was a lot less than the initial contribution proposed by the education department three years ago.

Cllr Richard Lewis said he would like the director of education to explain the change in figures. “We are giving gold bars away,” he said.

Cllr Will Evans agreed, saying he felt officers “should have done their homework properly in the beginning”.

There was also a feeling among some councillors that Pobl should have known what it was taking on at the former Cefn Gorwydd colliery.

Citing a previous planning report, Cllr Peter Black said: “The difficulties that Pobl have found were very clearly highlighted.”

Cllr Mary Jones concurred, reminding the committee that it had visited the former colliery.

“We all knew this site would be difficult,” she said.

A planning officer said Pobl had only been able to carry out a detailed survey, including drilling after detailed planning consent had been granted early in 2019.

Planning agent Phil Baxter, on behalf of Pobl, said its decision to apply to the council to change the agreement had not been taken lightly, but that it was facing the prospect of not taking the site forward for development because of the development costs.

Cllr Des Thomas said: “If we want this development to continue and to provide housing for people in need, then we need to think of where we are today and look for a way forward.”

He also said the committee should accept the figures and the advice from officers, who recommended the legal agreement should be changed.

Cllr Mike Lewis said members of the committee should ask themselves if they would have turned down the original application for 99 homes if they’d known then what they did now. He said he would not have refused it.

Another element of Pobl’s latest application was to alter the tenure of affordable housing agreed at the site so that all of them would be “intermediate” shared ownership, rather than some intermediate and some for social rent.

Pobl said this alteration would enable it to qualify for a Welsh Government grant.

However, it also proposed to build 34 homes for social rent on top, leaving 32 for sale on the open market.

Pobl argued that the upshot was many more affordable homes than set out in the original planning consent.

But some councillors objected to the proposed change in tenure and said any legal agreement should also incorporate the 34 social rented ones Pobl now said it would build.

The committee voted against the application, which had triggered 342 objections, by a majority of seven to five. The decision could be challenged via a judicial review.

Earlier in the meeting, Gowerton resident Gareth Evans addressed the committee, claiming that Pobl had taken “an ill-judged decision to proceed” with the project and that changing the legal agreement would be “financially inequitable and morally wrong”.

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