Chris Thorne
Chris Thorne

By Chris Thorne

The Tricorn House Mystery. Shelter investigates…

Fed up of that derelict, empty eyesore in the town centre? Puzzled by the half-built building round the corner? Mystified by the empty plot of land along the main road?

You’re not alone. These are common sights up and down the country. In every village, town and city there’s land going to waste. Land that could be used for homes.

In England we’re not building enough homes, and haven’t for a generation. It’s at the heart of every housing problem we see – such as surging house prices, unaffordable private renting and worsening homelessness.

And whilst the homes we need aren’t being built, developer profits are skyrocketing. Profits are put first, above the needs of ordinary people.

That’s why we’re launching an investigation to expose wasted land that could be turned into homes. We’re asking Shelter supporters to send us examples of empty plots and half-built sites, then we’ll investigate them, uncover why they’re going to waste and what can be done about them.

Before going out to our supporters, we put our investigatory powers to the test…

Tricorn House
(© bazzadarambler, The symmetry of ruin… Tricorn House, Cainscross, Stroud, September 2011, flickr.com/photos/bazzadarambler/6180806143)

This is Tricorn House in Stroud, Gloucestershire. It’s lain empty for almost 20 years, for just about as long as our colleague Ross can remember! So we investigated. Here are the results:

Owner

The owner of the site is Millville Ltd, an offshore property trading company.

Planning status

In June 2016 a developer, Oxfordshire Enterprises Ltd (OE), put in an application for ‘permitted development rights’ to convert the building from office space into 44 residential units. More on this jargon soon!

The application was not decided within the required eight weeks and therefore received ‘deemed consent’. Read on to understand this jargon too…

Planning status explained

Although it doesn’t own the site, Oxfordshire Enterprises Ltd (OE) applied for planning permission to develop it. In theory anybody can apply for planning permission on any piece of land in the country – but it can’t be developed unless you own the land or have permission from the owner.

OE applied for ‘permitted development rights,’ which means that changes to the building don’t need to go through the normal planning process. This is why ‘deemed consent’ can happen – if there’s no objections to the plan, the applicant automatically gets permission. ‘Permitted development rights’ make it easier to convert office buildings into homes.

Reason for lack of development

Planning permission was granted, so why aren’t the 44 flats being built?

Local media report that the developer now wants to create 60 flats for assisted living on the site. But the planning application for this has been delayed due to works needed on the building. The application was expected in January 2017, but this hasn’t happened at the time of writing.

We tried to contact Millville and OE directly to find out what’s going on, but we can’t find their details anywhere. So, if either of you are reading this blog, we’d love to hear from you! But until that call comes we can only speculate on what’s happening…

The delay may well be down to more pre-development work required than expected.

Alternatively, this work may have been postponed due to the landowner wanting to boost their profits. Many landowners leave sites empty while house prices in the area increase, so that they make a bigger profit when they sell them. In our view, this is likely to be what’s happening at Tricorn House.

But the developer and owner are just doing what comes naturally to a private company and trying to maximise profits. This is simply how the corporate world works and, importantly, we’re not trying to suggest they’re doing anything illegal.

It’s the current housebuilding system that’s at fault. The price of land itself is so artificially high. When developers pay over the odds for it, it’s inevitable that they need to make savings elsewhere or delay building while house prices increase.

Sadly, the people of Stroud are the losers. They have to wait longer for homes that are badly needed.

So what can be done? In this case, we’d encourage Ross to contact the local press and Stroud’s MP about Tricorn House. He could highlight that the owner isn’t showing much urgency to develop the site, despite local people being desperate for homes.

Ultimately we need a new way of doing development. A way which builds the homes we need at a fairer price, and puts the needs of the local community first. We can’t stick with the status quo, where developers and landowners make sky high profits, whilst ordinary people suffer a lack of social housing, unaffordable rents and overpriced homes.

Help us to expose this broken system, by sending us your examples of where it’s failed. This will help to make the case for doing development differently.

Send us your examples of empty, half-built or wasted land to campaign@shelter.org.uk. We’ll investigate the site, uncover why it’s going to waste, and let you know what can be done about it. Just send us a photo and address or a Google Maps link, and together we can find out why your community isn’t getting the homes it needs.

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