Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity
When I shared my open email to the Council Leader on Morland Gardens in a guest post earlier this week, I drew attention to the “Update on the supply of New Affordable Homes” report, which is going to next Monday’s Cabinet meeting. Now I will highlight some points from that.
It’s only a month since I wrote about Brent’s Affordable Council Housing – the promises and the reality, but that reality has got a whole lot worse. Then I was writing about Social Rent, London Affordable Rent (“LAR”) and Shared Ownership (“SO”), which is neither ownership nor “affordable” housing. Now Council Officers want to include some new terms, Open Market Rent (“OMR”) and Open Market Sale (“OMS”) into Brent’s New Council Homes programme.
Extract from the “Update” Report for the 14 November Cabinet meeting.
They are saying that some (in fact, quite a lot!) of the new homes the Council builds can no longer be for social housing, which is what Council homes are meant to provide. They will have to be for rents that are not genuinely affordable, such as OMR (or Local Housing Allowance level, as it is sometimes referred to), or they will have to be for shared ownership or sold off privately, the same as any other developer would do.
‘What is the point of the Council building new Council homes which are not new homes for rent to Council tenants?’ you might ask. The answer from the Corporate Director, Resident Services, is that you have to “convert” some of those homes to unaffordable homes, or homes for sale, in order to be able to afford to build other homes which are for affordable rent. But the Council, as a social housing provider, can’t offer unaffordable homes to Council tenants, so it has to pass on the OMR and SO homes it is “converting” to someone else.
The start of a long list of recommendations for Cabinet to agree on 14 November.
The Report recommends that the “conversion” will be done by ‘Officers’. Which Officers? – it doesn’t say (why is that?), but many of the other recommendations delegate the power to make decisions to the Corporate Director, Resident Services (the Officer who signed off the Report, Peter Gadsdon).
As will be seen from my first extract from the Report above, the “conversion” will be ‘via the Council’s wholly owned subsidiary company i4B.’ Because i4B is a separate “legal person”, it can charge higher rents than the Council itself would be allowed to charge. The Council would build the homes to be “converted”, then sell them to i4B (who would pay for them with a loan from the London Borough of Brent), for rent to Brent residents (possibly homeless families).
But as well as making these recommendations, Peter Gadsdon is also a director of i4B, which would benefit from the extra properties in its portfolio. Isn’t that a conflict of interests? And another director of i4B is Cllr. Saqib Butt, the brother of the Council Leader who will chair the Cabinet meeting considering the recommendations. I have raised these potential conflicts of interest with Brent’s Monitoring Officer, and await her response.
How many of the New Affordable Homes are likely to be “converted” to unaffordable ones? It could be as many as 50% of them, on the basis of this recommendation from the Report:
And it is not just ‘new planning permission applications’ that that are at risk of losing up to 50% of their affordable homes. Windmill Court, which has an “affordable housing” condition in its planning consent specifying that the tenure of the homes must be for no more than LAR, is one of the schemes proposed for “conversion”. The planning consent gave the reason for the LAR condition as: 'In the interests of proper planning.'
Extract from the Update Report, including proposals for Kilburn Square and Windmill Court.
Also on this particular list (there are others) for “conversion” is Rokesby Place. Regular readers may remember that I have been challenging the action by Brent’s Planning Officers in secretly changing the tenure for those two new 4-bedroom Council houses from Social Rent to the more expensive LAR. Now the Report to Cabinet wants to change things again, and either sell off one of the houses, or transfer it to i4B, to be let out at OMR!
The Rokesby Place planning application was pushed through, against the wishes of existing residents, on the grounds that the Council had to use any “spare” land on its estates to build genuinely affordable homes for local people in housing need. Now one of the two houses won’t be, despite the Report’s empty words: ‘Large family sized homes at low rent remain a priority for the Council.’
Another housing “battle” I’ve been having with Brent, for the past 15 months, is to try to get more genuinely affordable Council homes at their Cecil Avenue development. It’s a vacant, Council-owned site which has had full planning permission for 250 new homes since February 2021. The Report says that since Cabinet approved the project in August 2021, ‘officers have advanced competitive procurement of a delivery partner.’ When there are 250 homes which could be for Brent residents in urgent housing need, that’s very slow progress!
The delay has been even longer, because Officers carried out a “soft market testing” exercise in April 2021 (which was so soft that it guaranteed the result they wanted, to justify their recommendations to Cabinet). They could have started the project last year, when the cost of borrowing to build the homes (152 for the “developer partner” to sell for profit, 61 as intermediate housing - SO or OMR – and only 37 for LAR!) would have been much lower. What further cuts to the affordable housing in the Wembley Housing Zone are hidden in ‘(Exempt) Appendix 3’, which the public will never be allowed to see?
Now, quickly, here are two more recommendations to Monday’s meeting from the Report:
What are Modern Methods of Construction (“MMC”)? I would suggest you read a blog article on “Airspace” which Martin published in October last year. ‘A minimum of 25% of all homes’ out of the 700 the latest round of GLA funding will almost certainly include Gauntlett Court in Sudbury, and probably Campbell Court and Elvin Court in Kingsbury. Has there been any genuine consultation with residents of those Council estates yet?
The Report is recommending “conversion” of LAR homes the Council
proposes to build to SO, when it has no evidence that there is any demand for
them! There are already a large number of shared ownership homes built by, or
in the pipeline from, private developers on big schemes in Wembley and
elsewhere. Those developers are forced to provide a proportion of affordable
homes as part of their plans, and they make as much of it as possible shared
ownership, because that is recognised for planning purposes as “affordable
housing”, even though it is unaffordable to most people in housing need in
There was an interesting Q&A on Council housing, and shared ownership, as part of consideration of Brent’s Draft Borough Plan 2023-2027, at the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday, 8 November. I’ll end this post with a transcript (from the webcast recording - at around 2hrs 5mins in!) of that exchange.
Cllr. Anton Georgiou (“AG”): Just for complete clarity for the committee, what does Brent Council define as a Council home? Most people define a Council home as being a property owned by the Council that is let at Social Rent.
Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive (“CD”): That is what we do as well.
AG: From documents that I’ve read, it seems that Brent have extended this to include Shared Ownership, London Affordable Rent, temporary accommodation and assisted living.
CD: Absolutely not. When we talk about one thousand general new Council homes they are Council homes. It is Council housing.
AG: This isn’t Shared Ownership?
CD: We have not ever built a single Shared Ownership. Developers might, we the Council haven’t.
Shout from an unidentified person: Not genuinely affordable!
Cllr.Muhammed Butt, Council Leader: Apologies. What you just said there, right, comes under the broad banner of affordable homes, right, but we do actually build Council homes.
Cllr. Rita Conneely, Chair: So, I’m going to draw this item to a close.
You can make up your own mind, from what was said at that meeting and from the Report, how committed Brent Council are to their promise of ‘genuinely affordable housing for families in Brent’.
My own “Update on the supply of New Affordable Homes”? Far fewer than were promised ahead of last May’s local elections!