Willsgrove Developments have submitted an outline application to build 74 houses on the former quarry site on Fishmore Road (16/03096/OUT). The plan is for a mix of homes and apartments. It is on the right lines for what we need on this site.
This site should be developed. It is suitable for a high density of housing, even though that will increase traffic along Fishmore Road. It is a sustainable location within walking distance of the town centre, though it lacks a nearby bus route.
If these plans are approved, there will be no affordable housing provided. The site plans also lack sufficient sustainable drainage and I am not happy with play area provision.
The proposals are for 74 homes and apartments, a density of 41 dwellings per hectare. There will be 134 car parking spaces.
With any development, there are downsides. The housing will lead to extra traffic and that will be to the detriment of people living at the south end of Fishmore Road. It could also increase the level of risk for pedestrians and cyclists at the Bridge roundabout.
The site is close to the town centre and we should encourage residents to walk or cycle into town. That means creating safe crossings at the Bridge roundabout. I think the developers of this development, and that on the adjacent former bus station site, should contribute towards the costs of this.
I am troubled about the lack of public open space in the scheme. The houses have gardens and the apartments will share an open space at the back the development. I am not keen on this segregation. I am concerned that the scheme does not include an equipped play area. It is quite a stroll to the Fishmore View play area. It would better if open space and play facilities were included within this scheme, perhaps jointly with plans to redevelop the former Whittles garage.
This site is in a very sensitive location and any increase in rainwater runoff could increase flood risk. The developers plan that rainwater from the housing and roads will run directly into the mains. That could mean that at times of heavy rainfall, storm water will rush towards the Corve, which is only 120 metres away. The initial plans are to slow this water release through storage under porous paving in car parking areas. Greywater harvesting, storage of rainwater for domestic use, is also being considered. More needs to be done on this aspect of the scheme to ensure that lower Corve Street is not affected by any increased rate of runoff.
Shropshire Council’s conservation officers have asked the developer to decide whether this is a contemporary or a traditional designed scheme. They say: “The choice should be strictly either one or the other and not an awkward hybrid of either.” The officers add: “A stronger frontage to Fishmore Road should be made, where perhaps a terrace or two blocks of terraces could be formed in order to form a strong and active frontage with parking to the rear.”
The largest area of open space has initially been placed at the back of the development, where the ground rises steeply. This space is marked “landscaped amenity area for the apartments”. If the open space is exclusively for the use of the apartments, this leaves the rest of the development, 69% of the properties, without access to local amenity space. Shropshire Council’s guidelines state that amenity space should be within a 10-minute walk time, 480 metres. The Fishmore View amenity area and play area is approximately 400 metres away. This is within guidelines but Fishmore View is not well located in relation to this development. Fishmore Road is a busy street, with narrow pavements. It would be far preferable to have open space in the centre of the new development.
This scheme needs further work before it is approved. It is also vital that we get on and develop this long empty site.
Is the scheme viable with affordable housing?
The viability assessment provided by the developer states:
“Our viability assessment shows that the site would not be financially viable if affordable housing were provided.”
This is a difficult site to develop. Buildings were cleared from the site some years ago at a cost of more than £140,000. More than £300,000 was spent on installing the mini-roundabout on Fishmore Road and improving the junction at the Bridge.
These are historic costs relating to previous plans. It is an arguable point whether they can be included in any assessment of whether the current plans are commercially viable.
For the current scheme, an estimated £200,000 will be needed to deal with contaminated ground water. A much larger cost will be erecting a retaining wall to stop the sides of the former quarry collapsing. The plan is to stabilise rock faces with either gabion baskets or criblock, with backfill behind. This retaining wall will be substantial, more than nine metres high in places. The cost is estimated at £835,000. The developer says are other exceptional costs over and above these two items.
The developer’s estimate is that the 74 homes will sell for £14,267,000. At that price, given the exceptional costs and the £6,717,000 cost of building the scheme, Willsgrove Developments will only make a profit of 19%. Developers typically look to a margin of 20%. The argument is that if affordable housing is included in this scheme, the profit will fall below 19% and the scheme will not be viable.
This is a powerful argument. This site does need to be developed. But the financial arguments will need to be checked in detail by Shropshire Council. The council should also insist on a clawback mechanism, which would plough any profits above those projected into affordable housing in Ludlow.