Gentoo let off with £80,000 bill over new 99-home estate in Hetton

A developer behind plans for almost 100 homes on the former Broomhill Estate has been let off an £80,000 bill towards improving the area’s infrastructure.

Sunday, 3rd November 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 4th November 2019, 11:18 am

Gentoo, a housing association, agreed to stump up the cash last year in June 2019 after it was granted permission for 99 homes on the land in Houghton Road, Hetton.

But after the firm claimed its latest assessments on the land showed the extra cost would make the scheme ‘unviable’ planning bosses agreed to let the project go ahead without the payment.

Builders have still agreed to provide a 10 per cent quota of ‘affordable housing’, although this will be on a separate site nearby.

Stock picture of a Gentoo Homes banner

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Permission for the revised application was approved by Sunderland City Council’s Development Control Panel for Hetton, Houghton and Washington on Wednesday.

Coun Len Lauchlan, who represents Washington West, had some concerns over the matter.

He asked at the meeting: “Why is it not viable? We had a similar development not long ago that provided S106 money, it just seems wrong to me.”

The committee was told ‘abnormal site costs’ had been raised following ‘further land investigations’ which meant the £80,000 promised under an S106 agreement, through which developers can contribute to infrastructure and other amenities, was no longer viable.

An assessment of this was accepted by the city councils’ property services team.

The previous agreement had promised to provide £40 000 towards education, £20 000 towards ecology improvements and £20 000 for play facilities.

All members of the planning committee voted to approve the revised application except for Coun Lauchlan, who abstained.

But later in the meeting further issues were raised about contributions from developers by Coun Michael Dixon, who said: “I’m a bit concerned about s106 and the explanations we’re getting.

“On a number of occasions a member of staff has come along and not been able to give [the panel] much explanation so can we provide more senior people who specialise in this sort of thing – I’m not particularly satisfied with the answer we got tonight.”

He was backed by Coun Alex Scullion, who said the councillors needed a ‘better way to explore’ the viability of S106 agreements.

Following the decision, Anthony Lowther, managing director at Gentoo, said: “As part of Gentoo Homes’ wider Bramblewood development, we delivered the full 10 per cent affordable housing provision for both phase one and two, within phase one of the development.

“This was a total of 23 affordable homes out of 227 units.

“Although there was no financial Section 106 contribution made for this particular site, Gentoo Homes has recently made a significant £700,000 financial contribution to Sunderland City Council for its Chester Gate, Churchfields and Manorfields developments.”