THE developers of a 500-home Weymouth housing scheme have been criticised for trying to reduce the number of affordable homes by 18.

The company behind the Curtis Fields development is seeking to reduce the promise it made to deliver 30 per cent affordable homes – claiming the full figure was no longer affordable.

Betterment Properties (Weymouth) Ltd had returned to Dorset Council seeking a change to its legal agreement after suffering unexpected site costs of more than £20million.

These included the discovery of asbestos and needing additional retaining works.

After most of the planning committee called for the full 30 per cent to be maintained they were persuaded by officers to defer a decision to allow negotiations with the company to explore other ways to maintain the affordable homes level.

Betterment argued that a reduction of 18 affordable homes across the scheme was necessary if they were to maintain profit levels – a position supported by the independent District Valuer’s office which had examined the financial projections.

READ MORE: 'Bid to reduce number of affordable homes'

Councillors deciding the application at an area planning committee were less than convinced by the plea – many arguing that the agreement should stick and if Betterment had to take a financial hit, so be it.

Unusually opposition to the Betterment bid came from all political parties.

Conservative councillor for Preston and Littlemoor, Louie O’Leary, who described himself as “a proud capitalist”, said the council had seen similar examples to reduce affordable housing levels on other schemes in the past.

“Developers come here and promise the Moon and then come back and say the spacecraft is too expensive later on… 18 houses sounds like a few but that’s 18 desperate families in need of a home on a Housing Register which far exceeds 18 people,” he said.

Dorset Echo: Western Design Architects Western Design Architects (Image: Western Design Architects)

He warned that to make an exception would set a precedent and said he would not support reducing the numbers.

Cllr Kelvin Clayton (Green Party), Bridport, said with insufficient homes being built in the county which people could afford he could not support the reduction in numbers.

“I do not think we should be prioritising developer profits over the supply of homes which people can afford,” he said.

Wyke Regis councillor Kate Wheller (Labour) was also against the change. She said Betterment had known the site for over 20 years and was not convinced by the arguments for the reduction.

“As a council we should be standing up to this. It’s 30 per cent and 30 per cent it should remain,” she said.

Lib Dem opposition group leader on the council, Nick Ireland, also opposed the proposed reduction, which officers had recommended be accepted.

He said he did not believe the development would come to a halt if the 18 home loss was not accepted.

After a lengthy adjournment the committee decided that to go back to the developers and attempt to negotiate a compromise would be a better option than rejecting the reduction, potentially avoiding an appeal.

The application is now expected to be considered again in June or July, following the May local council elections.

If the application is allowed it will reduce the number of ‘affordable’ homes across the site from 140 to 122, made up of 84 for rent and 38 shared ownership.

The council has a legal contract, known as a Section 106 agreement, with the developers, dating back to 2016, which agreed a minimum of 30per cent affordable homes together with more than £4.5million in financial contributions by the company for recreation, ecology and towards the costs of school provision in the area.