Torbay Weekly editor Jim Parker: Time is running out on £3m to kick-start homes schemes - victory or golden chance missed?

It was almost three years ago that Torbay Council received a large chunk of government cash to kick start three major housing projects which would have provided hundreds of new homes

Around £3 million was handed down in a Land Release Fund project to pave the way for the start of work and building on land in Garfield Road in the centre of Paignton and Preston Down Road and Collaton St Mary on the outskirts of the town.

It was during the reign of then Mayor Gordon Oliver and his team when it was decided to look at the funding and schemes.

There was a backlash from some residents who were against the new homes but I assumed all was going according to plan, albeit plan B, C or whatever.

Wrong. The fate of the land is still yet to be decided and the first sod being cut is some way off – although the clock is ticking rather loudly.

The Garfield Rad site is progressing but it has not been plain sailing for the other two sites.

The council bought back the lease for the land at Preston Down Road from the Torbay Countryside Trust and with Collaton were looking for a joint development partner to build the homes.

A report says the 10 acres on both sides of Preston Down Road, and 45 acres at Little Blagdon Farm, Collaton, would provide a total of around 400 homes.

Housing councillor Swithin Long said: “We went through a procurement process to get the best outcomes.”

Affordable homes, quality, design and sustainability were some of the criteria thresholds to be met.

But Cllr Long revealed: “Unfortunately, the proposal was not as good as the council would have hoped for. We have decided to end that process. We have been thinking about what to do.”

Options were being put before councillors this week.

Cllr Long said: “We are going to propose selling the Collaton St Mary land on the open market.”

It is also proposed the land at Preston Down Road will be given to the council’s new housing company TorVista to bring forward.

There will be a profit share with TorVista and the council to build more affordable homes and finance other projects as well as paying back the money handed to the countryside trust.

The recently-formed housing company already has some projects under way including building affordable homes at Paignton’s Tweenaway Cross – where empty properties have been left derelict and in an eyesore condition for too many years – and the St Kildas site in Brixham.

The plan is for the housing company to be able to provide more part-buy properties. And there could be the return of the old council house under the guise of social rented properties.

Evidently, areas like Teignbridge, the South Hams and Exeter are allowed to bid for funding for such accommodation while Torbay is not permitted. All sounds very weird and very unfair and something over which lobbying is taking place at Whitehall and Westminster.

The current government has made no secret of its desire to see new housing targets met throughout the UK, Torbay included.

That will be of no comfort to the residents unhappy about the Preston Down and Collaton homes plans.

But time may be on their side. Contracts have to be in place by the end of this December or the money will have to be handed back to the government...

They will see that as a victory but at what cost? Fewer people being able to afford a home. The least well-off denied the chance of a house and a government wondering why £3 million is still hanging about and waiting to be spent after three years.

They may think twice before dishing out similar funding in the future.

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