Sian Berry London Green Party Assembly Member has revealed that the London Mayor’s new ‘team of viability experts’ will consist of only two people, which is not enough to challenge the huge resources of developers.
The new team will be based in City Hall and will examine figures submitted by developers when they fail to meet the Mayor’s targets for affordable homes.
However, in response to a written question from Sian Berry, the Mayor has said the ‘team’ will be made up of just two people.
He also failed to give reassurances that they would be permanent staff and not on short term contracts that allow them to move back and forth between public and commercial work that could bring conflicts of interest.
Sian Berry said:
The Mayor promised a team of experts and Londoners need more than two people in these posts if the Mayor’s goal of challenging developers is to be viable. I am very concerned that two people, however talented, will be stretched beyond capacity and unable to make a real difference.Sadiq Khan is currently consulting on draft Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Guidance (consultation ends 28th February 2017) LINK
There’s already too much of a ‘revolving door’ for consultants between big developers and Council regeneration schemes, and it’s vital that these experts do not also have commercial interests while working on behalf of Londoners.
The new team needs to be expanded quickly and this should not be done by hiring in consultants on short term contracts, but by building up a dedicated and permanent expert team that works only in the public interest.
It is clear from the draft extracts below that more than two experts will be required to give close attention to schemes when developers argue that they will only be 'viable' if less than 50% of housing is 'affordable'. In truth two people would hardly be adequate for developments taking place just within Brent in Wembley Park, South Kilburn and Alperton. The problem that 'affordable' is not really affordable and Brent regular backs down in the face of viability assessments has been covered on this blog LINK and reported on Get West London website LINK
VIABILITY ASSESSMENTS14 The third part of the SPG (Supplementary Planning Guidance) provides detailed guidance on viability assessments, aiming to establish a standardised approach to viability. The SPG clearly sets out what information and assumptions should be included in a viability appraisal. It builds on the London Borough Development Viability Protocol and aims to provide a clear approach that can be consistently applied across London.15 It sets out the Mayor’s expectations when it comes to the publication of viability information, requiring all information to be made public, including council and third party assessments. Applicants will have the opportunity to argue that limited elements should be kept undisclosed, but the onus is on the applicant to make this case.16 The SPG is explicit about the Mayor’s preference for using Existing Use Value Plus as the comparable Benchmark Land Value when assessing the viability of a proposal. The premium above Existing Use Value will be based on site by site justification reflecting the circumstances of the site and landowner.
THE MAYOR AND REFERABLE APPLICATIONS1.16 Given the strategic importance of affordable housing delivery and the significant impact of reduced levels of affordable housing on the delivery of the London Plan, the Mayor will consider directing that he is to be the Local Planning Authority for the purposes of determining an application (often referred to as a ‘call in’) or directing refusal when:
• he is not satisfied with the viability information submitted by the applicant, the assumptions that underpin the information, or the level of scrutiny given by the LPA;• he considers the viability information submitted may suggest a higher level of affordable housing could reasonably be provided;• the chance of significant contribution to affordable housing could be forgone due to other grounds and the Mayor wants to review the weight the LPA has given to competing planning objectives.
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