Eden District Council's planning committee has deferred a final decision on whether to agree to proposals to reduce the number of affordable homes provided as part of a new housing estate.

After concerns were expressed by a number of council committee members over the proposals, Eden's planning committee resolved at its meeting last Thursday to defer the decision on a request from Story Homes to reduce the number of affordable homes provided as part of its planned development at Greystoke, west of Penrith.

The developer plans to build 40 new homes on land east of The Thorpe, but after projecting "abnormal" costs associated with construction, Story Homes concluded the development would not be financially viable if required to provide the originally agreed number of affordable homes.

When outline planning permission was granted for a development on the site in 2017 for up to 40 new homes, a section 106 legal agreement was also agreed with Eden District Council, requiring that 30 per cent of the homes built there be sold as affordable - or in other words, sold at 60 per cent of their open market value.

However, as outlined to the council's planning committee on Thursday by Paul Fenton, development planner at Story Homes, when moving forward with their plans to start construction, the company identified a number of challenges set to make building more costly.

"Following the detailed site investigations and scheme design, this proposal is driven by site-specific constraints," Mr Fenton said, explaining that these include "poor ground conditions requiring land remediation" and a"costly foundation strategy", as well as "off-site highway works" and other requirements.

"Collectively, these constraints represent significant abnormal build costs, which regrettably render an affordable policy compliant scheme unviable," Mr Fenton said.

"The resultant costs will mean the scheme will not generate an acceptable level of developer profits, nor a reasonable return to a willing landowner, both of which are accepted in planning practice."

As such, Story Homes proposed to Eden District Council that the section 106 agreement be amended to require that 10 per cent of the properties built be sold as affordable homes rather than 30 per cent.

With Story intending to build 40 new homes on the site, this amendment would mean the provision of four affordable homes, rather than 12.

This would, Mr Fenton said, result in a "profit margin within the lower scale of industry standard" for Story Homes.

He added that it is "regrettable" that the developer is unable to meet the original requirement, however he argued that amending the agreement would keep the scheme viable, which would "facilitate the delivery" of "much-needed affordable housing" in the area.

Ian Irwin, Eden District Council's principal planning officer, explained to members of the planning committee, which is made up of elected Eden District Councillors, that negotiations had taken place between the authority and Story Homes prior to the proposal coming before them.

The council had also ensured that an independent viability assessment was carried out on the proposed scheme to gauge the likely profits from the development, something Mr Irwin assured was a "rigorous process".

Mr Irwin explained that the developer initially proposed the delivery of two affordable homes.

"Our independent assessment disagreed," he said, adding that the independent conclusion was that four affordable homes could be delivered while maintaining an acceptable profit margin.

"Ultimately", Mr Irwin said, four affordable homes were "negotiated".

"There are abnormal costs, and ultimately that does justify a reduced number of affordable units," Mr Irwin said.

This proposal has generated strong opposition from Greystoke Parish Council, with the authority's formal objection stating that the application "makes a mockery" of the scheme which secures agreement on affordable housing provision, adding that there is a "dire need" for affordable housing in the local area.

Conservative councillor for the Greystoke ward, Debra Wicks, acknowledged that there is a need for housing developers to make a profit, however she explained her concerns over the lack of affordable housing in Cumbria.

"Demand for housing is outstripping supply," she said.

"We're not supplying affordable dwellings for our young people to stay in Cumbria," she said, adding that this was being demonstrated by an "exodus of young people leaving Cumbria".

As a result, Ms Wicks said she could not support the proposal to reduce the number of affordable homes delivered as part of the development.

John Lynch, Penrith East Conservative councillor, expressed support for the proposal.

"If you remove the profit motive, you won't get any houses built," he said. "It has to go ahead, the district needs houses."

But Penrith North Green Party councillor Ali Ross added that outline planning permission for the site "was granted on the assumption those affordable homes would be delivered".

However, following a discussion over the proposals by committee members, it was agreed that the final decision on the request to amend the number of affordable homes be deferred until the next meeting of the committee, in order to allow Eden District Council officers to hold further discussions with Story Homes on the number of affordable homes that can be delivered as part of the scheme.

Separately to this consideration, the committee approved a reserved matters application from Story Homes relating to the appearance, layout, scale and landscape for its Greystoke development.

Outlining the developer's plans for the 40 new homes, Mr Fenton noted that there had been "strong interest" in the scheme from potential homeowners, "including residents form Greystoke.

He added that Story Homes has "made preparations" to begin work on the land this spring.