Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Westminster Labour opposes waiver on affordable housing in stark contrast to Brent Council

While Brent Labour Council approves developments with no, or very little affordable housing, their Labour colleagues in the City of Westminster appear to be taking a different approach. Background on the Jubilee/Moberly Sports Centre background can be found HERE

Wesminster Labour released this statement today:

Labour Councillors have objected to the proposal that the condition requiring a contribution of £500,000 towards affordable housing on the Jubilee Sports Centre development should be waived.

In a letter to the Council in advance of the Planning Committee on this evening, Labour Leader Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Queen’s Park Ward, said:
The reasons given for not following the Council’s planning policy arebased on a revised viability report on the expected profits of the Council’s development partner.  
The viability assessment dated December 2013, which has not been made available for inspection, is a year out of date. Since 2013 house prices in  London have risen 16.2% and 11% in the City of Westminster (Source: Rightmove property index November 2014). As the Council’s independent viability report has not been made public we have no way of knowing whether the model used by the viability consultants does or does not ignore residential growth in values that occurs between construction start on site and the commencement of marketing and phased release of the dwellings.

Moreover, unlike Brent Council, Westminster Council does not require a second viability report following the completion of the development to assess whether overage payments should be made by the developer so that the Council can share in the profit from developing its own land. This is a serious failure by the Council in failing to capture the increase in value for the public benefit. This is something on which we will be contacting the District Auditor.

In addition, it is now common knowledge that the Mayor’s fund for affordable housing is substantially unallocated. It has not been proved that the Mayor’s Fund has been taken into account when drawing conclusions on viability.

The Committee should also be aware that the current balance of funds held in the Council’s Affordable Housing Fund (AHF) at 10 November 2014 was £87.4m. Of these AHF balances £48.6m is contractually committed to ongoing affordable housing projects. A further £16m is currently earmarked for further affordable housing projects that are currently being worked up.

This leaves over £20 million unallocated. In addition, at the end of March 2014, there were c.£34m in payments due to be paid into the AHF from consented schemes that had been partially implemented.

There is clearly sufficient money in the Council’s AHF to build more social rent homes on this site.

Moreover the application should be rejected as unacceptably contrary to the following policy grounds:


• Affordable housing and floorspace that is used or was last used as affordable housing will be protected.

• The council will aim to exceed 30% of new homes to be affordable homes, and will work with its partners to facilitate and optimise the delivery of new affordable homes.

• Proposals for housing developments of either 10 or more additional units or over 1,000 sqm additional residential floorspace will be expected to provide a proportion of the floorspace as affordable housing.

The development proposes to replace 12 existing socially rented housing units with five socially rented units and seven shared ownership units. The ratio of shared ownership has now been altered to 80/20, amounting to a further unacceptable overall reduction in the number of social rented units. The Council’s policy requirement requirement to protect floorspace last used as affordable housing has not been met.

The overall number of units available for affordable housing amounts to 16% of the total number of units proposed, far short of the 30% target specified in policy S16. The Cabinet Member Report on the Supply an Allocation of Social Housing and Low Cost Home Ownership 2014/2015 dated 9th May 2014 recognises at para 3.2.1 that: “demand for social housing in Westminster continues to outstrip the supply of available accommodation to let “. The report goes continues: “Thirty four per cent of households need larger home (3 bedrooms or more) and ethnic minority households have a higher than average need for them at 38%.” The report is a material consideration for the determination of this proposal. The mix of units proposed does not reflect the demand projected by the Council’s Supply and Allocation Report.

The Committee has heard in the past about the extensive local opposition to this unwanted proposal.

In summary, the Committee should refuse permission for the conditions to be waived.

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