Tuesday 26 July 2022

Watling Gardens – what happened next?

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

Last month, Martin wrote that there was more to the Watling Gardens new homes than the Council was letting on, in its press statement claiming that it was providing 125 new homes for local families. This followed on from a guest post I had written about the rushed and incorrect report on Watling Gardens which was going to the Cabinet Meeting on 20 June.


Brent wanted to reduce the number of London Affordable Rent homes at the last minute, and replace 24 of those with Shared Ownership instead. In order to go ahead with awarding a construction contract on that basis, they needed to change the “Affordable Housing” condition in the planning consent they’d received for the project in April this year.


Opening section of application letter from Jones Lang LaSalle on 14 July 2022.


Variations to planning consents are covered by two sections of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990. Section 73 is for “material” amendments, while Section 96A covers “non-material” amendments. An application on behalf of Brent Council (as developer) was submitted to Brent Council (as Local Planning Authority) on 14 July, on the basis that what was being sought was a non-material amendment.


Unlike Section 73, applications under Section 96A do not have to be put out for consultation, and are usually dealt with by Planning Officers under “delegated authority” within 28 days. However, they do appear on the Council’s planning website, so I read the supporting documents for the new application, 22/2519


Planning agents are paid good money to present their client’s case in the best light, but I felt that the “spin” in JLL’s letter might be considered misleading on a couple of points. One of these was the claim that ‘there will be no change to the amount of affordable housing being provided’. I have been keen for some time to remind Council Officers and Cabinet members (and now agents acting on their behalf) of the truth about different types of “affordable housing”.


The rest of this “guest post” is the “neutral” comment on application 22/2519 which I submitted online on 25 July (although I have added some relevant illustrations to break up the text):-


‘This application seeks to amend condition 3 of Brent Council’s application 21/2473 (“the main application”), which was approved as recently as three months ago.


1) In the Affordable Housing Statement, prepared by Jones Lang LaSalle (“JLL”) and submitted as part of the supporting documents for the main application, this was the paragraph on viability:


A paragraph from the Affordable Housing Statement on application 21/2473.



A separate Viability Assessment Report has been prepared by Savills under separate cover and demonstrates that Brent Council are providing in excess of the maximum viable amount of affordable housing. Notwithstanding this, Brent Council are fully committed to delivering these much-needed new affordable homes.’


In this application, 22/2519, JLL’s covering letter says:


‘Brent Council seeks to alter the wording of Condition 3 of planning permission ref:21/2473 to vary the tenure mix of the affordable homes at the Watling Gardens Estate in order to improve the overall financial viability of the scheme.’


The earlier statement acknowledged that the amount of affordable housing proposed in the main application was more than would be financially viable, but said that, despite this, Brent Council were fully committed to delivering the affordable homes set out in that application.


Now, the applicant is seeking to go back on that commitment. 


But JLL, on behalf of Brent Council, have not submitted any updated viability data to justify the proposed amendment. Shouldn’t such additional information be a requirement?


An elevation drawing showing two views of Block B at Watling Gardens, from application 21/2473.


2) At the end of the section of JLL’s covering letter which sets out their proposed new wording for Condition 3, the agent states:


‘The proposed amendment does not materially impact permission 21/2473 and will enable a financially viable scheme to be delivered.’


I believe that there WOULD be a material impact in substituting 24 shared ownership homes instead of what were to be 24 homes for London Affordable Rent. 


Extract from JLL’s covering letter of 14 July, with details of the proposed shared ownership flats.


Although shared ownership is technically an affordable housing tenure, it is not an affordable home for the vast majority of Brent residents in housing need. 


The 2020 Brent Poverty Commission Report found that the only really affordable Council housing in the borough was homes at Social Rent level. London Affordable Rent levels were just about affordable for some families, if they could top up their incomes with Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. 


Shared ownership homes SHOULD NOT be treated as “affordable homes” for the purpose of affordable housing in Brent. 


To take away 24 London Affordable Rent homes from the mix in Condition 3 would effectively reduce the number of General Needs Housing homes available to residents on the housing waiting list, or in temporary accommodation, by more than 35% (from 67 down to 43).’

Philip Grant.



Anonymous said...

Wonder how many properties our local councillors and their families own between them? They have no clue what 'affordable' means to people on minimum wage.

Philip Grant said...


I should record my thanks to Gerry Ansell, Brent's Head of Planning, for the clear advice he provided in answer to my questions about the procedure which had to be followed if the Council (or anyone else) wished to seek an amendment to a condition already included in a planning consent.

I also asked him whether Brent Council seeking to change a previously agreed affordable housing condition, such as converting some London Affordable Rent homes to Shared Ownership, would create a precedent (for example, developers saying "you let Brent Council do it, so you should let us do it too!"). This was his reply:

'I understand your concern regarding precedent. However, any decision on the appropriate route would be taken within the framework set out above. Moreover it must be judged against relevant policy. On that basis a decision on this matter has no bearing on the outcome of any other proposals for amendment which may come forward in the future.'

Anonymous said...

JLL are careful to use the term affordable housing or new affordable homes as this covers shared ownership as well as affordable rent. Who is kidding who?
As for affordable rent this is unaffordable to the residents but affordable in development terms.

Existing Brent residents would have difficulty paying £168 a week for a bedsit plus weekly service charge increasing the weekly amount to over £180! And still try to pay bills, eat and live.
Affordable rent will negatively impact the people of Brent when there is a push to exceed targets in this round of funding for estate infill creating two tier housing on estates! Other boroughs can pace themselves knowing that the next round of funding is for Social Rent homes which don’t have the long term financial impact on residents or the emerging equality issues for multicultural communities.

Philip Grant said...

Brent's Head of Planning has issued a letter on 18 August 2022 granting consent to the change from London Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership for 24 homes in the new Watling Gardens scheme.

I've included an extract from the Final Delegated Report on which the decision was based, but basically Brent's planners are saying that both LAR and Shared Ownership are "Affordable Housing".

They also say that as there is (or was, in 2018) an identified need for Shared Ownership homes in the borough, it doesn't matter that the Council wants to replace homes which would be "genuinely affordable" with homes which require the shared-ownership lessee to have an annual income of up to £60k!

This argument ignores the fact that there are thousands of people on Brent's housing / homeless list who need genuinely affordable housing, and that Brent's planners have approved hundreds of other shared ownership flats as part of the "affordable housing" requirement on applications by private developers or housing associations in recent years'


'Regarding comments on the affordability of intermediate units for Brent residents, the definition of 'Affordable' comes from the Brent Local Plan, London Plan and NPPF. Intermediate (Shared Ownership) is treated as an Affordable Housing product in Brent, but the significant need for those on lower incomes is recognised by the 70 % target for Social / LAR homes.

However the Brent Strategic Housing Market Assessment (2018), which forms part of the evidence base shaping the housing policies contained in the Local Plan, outlines that there is a proportion of residents within the Borough who require homes which would be classified at an Intermediate level. Therefore, introducing an element of shared ownership units into the proposal ensures this need is met.

For these reasons, it is considered that the proposal is consistent with the non-material amendment procedure as there would be no material change to the type or quantum of development approved under the original permission, nor the overall amount of affordable housing which will remain at 100%.'