Sunday 26 June 2022

More to Watling Gardens 'new homes' than the Council is letting on


Watling Gardens with some of the buildings due to be demolished (note the mature trees)

Brent Concil published a press statement last week after the Cabinet meeting which presumably they expect to be used by the local press.


Another 125 new council homes for local families


125 local families will benefit from new Council homes at Watling Gardens, Cricklewood, after construction was given the go ahead by Cabinet on Monday 20 June 2022.


Following close on the heels of last week’s announcement that that we are investing in 155 new homes at the Alperton Bus Garage Development, this latest approval marks a leap forward towards the aim to create 1,700 new council homes by 2028.


The high cost of private rented housing was one of the biggest issues identified by Brent’s Poverty Commission, which recommended making building more council homes a priority.


Watling Gardens will consist of 125 new council homes, including 45 extra care homes especially designed for disabled and older people, 24 shared ownership homes, to provide an affordable means of getting on the property ladder and 56 London Affordable Rent homes. Building works are expected to begin early next year (2023).


Councillor Promise Knight, Cabinet Member for Housing at Brent Council, said: 


“We are invested in much-needed council homes, helping local families into affordable, secure homes. This decision to build another 125 properties as council homes in the Watling Gardens Development is yet another step to hitting our promise to create 1,700 council homes by 2028. We are driving that promise forward almost weekly.


Brent’s Poverty Commission clearly set out that a safe, secure home is the foundation for every family to build upon. We are determined to keep building and providing those homes for the families who live in Brent.”


Cllr Knight was not actually at the Cabinet meeting as she was unwell and Cllr Butt managed the item.

The claim  of 125 new council homes needs some unpacking. 42 homes (the two Claire Court buidlings and bungalows), pictured above, are to be demolished and the occupants have been decanted. That leaves a net increase of 83 council homes. However, since the announced change of tenure, 24 of the 83 will be Shared Ownership instead of London Affordable Rent, requiring a shared annual income of £60,000 to £70,000. This further reduces the number of truly affordable homes to 59.

The press release also leaves out the information that, contrary to the Officers' Report, the change of tenure has to go back to Planning  for approval as pointed out by Philip Grant in a guest post on Wembley Matters. The report was amended at the Cabinet meeting to take this into account.  LINK.

Reacting to the Council's statement Philip Grant said:

It is as if it was prepared before Monday's Cabinet meeting, on the basis that the original recommendations had been approved, without the last-minute amendments.


The 125 homes at Watling Gardens are not strictly all "new" Council homes. Up to 34 of the homes will have to be allocated to existing tenants whose homes will be demolished to make way for this development, if they wish to be rehoused at their former Watling Gardens location.


For the change from LAR to Shared Ownership to be legally permissible, Brent will have to apply for an amendment to Condition 3 of the April 2022 planning consent. No such application is yet shown on Brent's planning pages. 


As the reason for the existing "affordable housing" condition was 'in the interests of proper planning', there is no guarantee that the change would be acceptable. 


Any such request for an amendment to the condition should be dealt with by Brent as Local Planning Authority in the same way as they would for any other (unconnected) applicant. Any attempt to apply "political pressure" on Brent's Head of Planning, in order to deliver what the Cabinet and other Senior Officers want, would be improper, and probably unlawful.


Of course, none of that is reflected in the press release!



Anonymous said...

Brent's Council leadership are now as well practiced at bending the truth as our appalling government and its leader.

Philip Grant said...

Slight amendment to Martin's blog above:

There does need to be a planning application for a change to planning condition 3 (affordable housing) on the Watling Gardens planning consent (21/2473), but it doesn't necessarily have to go to Planning Committee.

Most applications for amendments to planning conditions are dealt with at delegated Planning Officer level, but such applications do have to be made, and registered on the Brent planning website.

The decisions which Cabinet resolved to approve at the meeting on 20 June were (with my insertion of block capitals for emphasis):

'1) The tenure changes of 24 homes (19 x 1 bedroom homes and 5 x 2 bedroom) from London Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership, SUBJECT TO THE APPROVAL OF THE LOCAL PLANNING AUTHORITY.

2) To approve the award of the design and build contract for Watling Gardens to Hill Partnerships Ltd in the sum of £38,535,634, CONDITIONAL ON THE APPROVAL OF THE LOCAL PLANNING AUTHORITY TO TENURE CHANGES and subject to such additional sums to reflect the tenure changes and Planning consent amendment referred to under (1) above, to a limit of £480,000.00 allowed for in the total scheme costs as detailed within Appendix 1 (classified as containing exempt information) of the report.'

The whole scheme now depends on Brent Council obtaining that planning consent to the change of the "affordable housing" condition, and to the contractor "starting on site" by September 2022 (otherwise the project loses its GLA funding).

[The figures on which the Council feels it needs a last-minute change of tenure for 24 homes from London Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership are, of course, concealed from the public!]

Martin Francis said...

Thanks Philip. I have amended the article re the Planning Committee point. It looks as if it will be a formality.

Philip Grant said...

If the Council Officers responsible for the Watling Gardens project think that getting consent to the affordable housing planning condition 'will be a formality', they are taking a very big risk.

The process may take longer than they think, and in may not be straightforward. They will need to supply sufficient evidence to show why a condition made 'in the interests of proper planning', as recently as April 2022, is no longer appropriate.

Can they prove why taking away 24 of the London Affordable Rent homes set out in the "affordable housing" condition, and replacing them with homes for Shared Ownership, meets Brent's planning policies? What evidence is there to show that this is justified?

Any other developer wanting to change a planning condition would have to do that, and Brent Council should be treated in exactly the same way.