Court threat to Norwich house-builders

Stephanie BrooksCouncillors have thrown a stark warning to developers on a beleaguered Norwich estate - prove you can provide the community facilities residents desperately need or face the consequences of court action.Stephanie Brooks

Councillors have thrown a stark warning to developers on a beleaguered Norwich estate - prove you can provide the community facilities residents desperately need or face the consequences of court action.

The consortium of developers building homes on Queen's Hills estate in Costessey have one month to show they have made significant progress on their obligations or South Norfolk Council will be applying to the High Court for an injunction which will put an immediate halt to construction.

The authority's planning committee unanimously voted to take the rare action yesterday ignoring a last minute plea by the consortium for a stay of execution.

In a letter which arrived just hours before the meeting they urged the council to understand their own difficulties and bear in mind that problems had arisen not through their inaction but because the main developer Cofton had gone into administration a year ago.

The letter outlined details of when facilities such as playing fields and affordable housing could be delivered as well as a prospective date for the lodging of a planning application for a community centre and timescales for the adoption of Country Park, children's play areas and roads.

It read: 'The developers strongly believe an injunction is not an appropriate way to address the issues and would not be in the interests of the council or most importantly the residents of Queen's Hills.

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'The developers are committed to concluding the works at the development and are as frustrated as the council, but without all parties' co-operation the issues will not be resolved.'

But after months of negotiations, the council has decided it's simply too little too late.

Martin Wynne, chairman of the planning committee, said there was 'no alternative' action the council could take, while county, district and parish councillor for Costessey, Tim East, said it was 'reprehensible' for the consortium to ask for leniency.

Council solicitor Stuart Shortman said a breach of planning conditions of this nature was unheard of in south Norfolk and despite the recession other developers in the area had been adhering to their obligations.

'The developers have been happy to build the houses without triggering these obligations but have then been happy to continue building houses without keeping their agreements. As a result we have a sub standard development and people asking precisely when the council is going to take a grip of this estate,' he said.

An injunction, subject to further approval by South Norfolk Council's cabinet, will be sought unless the consortium shows progress on the estate's roads, organises a date of adoption for one of the play areas, submits a planning application for a community centre and completes the adoption of Country Park within a month.

The estate has planning permission for 1,648 homes, of which 728 are complete.

A primary school was opened on the estate, but other promised facilities have not been built mostly due to the lead developer Cofton going into administration in March 2009.

A recent report compiled by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) singled out Queen's Hills as the worst in the country.

Key points in the letter written by the consortium:

Education payments - �1.73m has been made and additional contributions to enlarge the current primary school are being discussed.

Playing fields - Works continues towards the delivery of the recreation space but they are struggling to transfer the land as it is currently owned by the administrator.

Affordable housing - An outstanding 26 homes are due to be built but are subject to a further planning application on land owned by the administrator.

Community centre - A planning application is expected to be lodged in mid June.

Recycling area - This should be complete within the next month.

Provision of bus stops - Discussions are ongoing with Norfolk County Council and quotations are being sort for the work.

Country Park - Final works needed for adoption will be complete following the conclusion of an arboricultural survey which will ensure no nesting birds or roosting bats are disturbed.

Play areas - Said they are not in breach of conditions by not providing the play areas but they are willing to work with the council to deliver the areas if an agreement can be made on the amount of money the developers will need to contribute towards their future maintenance.

Roads - The roads cannot be finished until the sewers beneath have been inspected but the administrator's permission is needed to do this.

Bus link - Said the incompletion of the bus link is not a breach of condition, but designs for the bus gate and link would be incorporated in the construction works for the playing field and community centre.