WINCHESTER City Council cabinet has voted unanimously to relinquish the requirement for affordable housing to be a key part of the controversial Silver Hill development.
The onus is now no longer on developer Henderson to incorporate it into the scheme. Instead any money for social housing will have to come from the council's share of the profits.
Instead discussions will be held with them further down the line, with the possibility of monies allocated by both parties to social housing, should there eventually be enough profit from the scheme.
The shift in stance from 100 affordable homes to none in the project, set to regenerate a significant chunk of central Winchester, has been blamed on changes in the financial and housing market since the project’s inception prior to the recession.
Passing the recommendation at Cabinet yesterday, council leader Rob Humby said it had fought hard to get the best possible deal.
“If we went back and started again we wouldn’t get anything as good,” he said.
“We’ve tried to address all the questions that were put forward. You can’t satisfy everybody on every point, whatever you do in Winchester.
“Even if we went back and started again there would be a group of people who wouldn’t be happy. This is the best deal to deliver affordable housing.”
The meeting proved a tense stand-off between cabinet members and the public, and had to be held in bigger hall than originally planned because over 100 wished to attend.
The social housing issue has been a major part of the recent campaign against the revamping of the £150m scheme.
Residents made impassioned speeches, branding the scheme “socially and morally repugnant” and “a monstrosity”.
One warned: “If you’re not careful you will end up going to war with the residents of this city.”
Cllr Kim Gottlieb, leader of the Winchester Deserves Better campaign, received a standing ovation when he said: “I have been behind the scenes and seen enough of the council’s own examination of this scheme and its many alterations to know that the process has been flawed and inadequate.”
Former city councillor Patrick Davies was equally critical: “It will be in the developers’ interest to ensure that they never have to make these payments and they no doubt will be able in due course to produce consultant advice to justify their stand.
“It is almost 18 months since a series of secret meetings with the developers and their advisers began, completely hidden from public scrutiny.
“I have asked to see details of these meetings and despite assurances that I could have them, I’m still waiting.”
Tempers frayed when the public were asked to leave so that councillors could discuss commercially sensitive financial details.
Winchester resident Jane Jessop took to the public microphone unbidden to vent her shock and anger at the behaviour of a democratically elected body.
But returning to public session cabinet member Iain Tait was equally irate: “I feel extremely disappointed my own credentials about supporting affordable housing have been questioned,” he said.
“I am proud to be associated with what is coming forward. I don’t see it as an example of poor architecture. I hope I will be here once Silver Hill is built and determine whether it’s a good or bad development.”
Cllr Vicki Weston agreed, stressing that the council had considered every aspect of the scheme in-depth and had followed best practice.
A revised planning application is expected later this year.