Monday 13 November 2023

Kilburn Square – Brent planners seek to reduce Affordable Housing by stealth

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

The recent guest post by the Chair of Kilburn Village Residents’ Association, Kilburn Square – Decision time (Chapter One) is finally here this Wednesday, ends with a reference to a future decision which will have to be made if planning permission for Brent Council’s proposed scheme is approved. But if Planning Officers get their way, there will be no Chapter Two.


Martin’s earlier blog about the various Brent infill housing applications on the agenda for Wednesday evening’s Planning Committee meeting, Say after me, 'The benefits of the scheme outweigh the harm/impact/conflict with policy', showed how Brent’s Planning Officers are using claimed “public benefits” to justify ignoring any objection points against the applications they are recommending should be accepted.


The main “public benefit” which they say would ‘far outweigh any harm’ on the Kilburn Square application (despite the many valid objection points set out in the KVRA Chair’s recent article) is that the proposed 139 new homes would all be affordable housing. That is what the application’s Affordable Housing Statement (Final) says, despite Brent’s Cabinet giving the green light to some of them being "converted" to shared ownership or even outright sale at its meeting in November 2022.


The rent details from the application’s Affordable Housing Statement (Final)


The affordable housing proposed in the Kilburn Square application is 99 "general needs" homes at the genuinely affordable London Affordable Rent ("LAR") level, and 40 New Accommodation for Independent Living ("NAIL") flats at the "intermediate" Local Housing Allowance rent level.


Other local Brent housing estate applications (Watling Gardens and Windmill Court) approved in 2022, under the current Brent Local Plan policies, also showed that all of their new homes would be for genuinely affordable housing (LAR, or Social Rent level for returning existing tenants). The affordable housing condition (Condition 3) in their planning consent letters made clear that 100% of the homes would be affordable housing, as set out in those applications. The reason given for this condition was: 'In the interests of proper planning.'


There have been no changes in planning policy or law since those consents were issued in April 2022, so the position should be the same for Kilburn Square.


However, if you look closely at the proposed Condition 3 in the draft decision notice, tucked away at the end of the Planning Officers’ Committee Report for Kilburn Square, it says:


'The development hereby approved shall contain 139 residential dwellings. A minimum of 50 % of those dwellings (measured by habitable room or number of homes) shall be provided as Affordable housing ....'


I submitted an objection to this proposed condition, and I will ask Martin to attach a copy of the pdf version of it (which I submitted online, and emailed to the three key Planning Officers - Head of Planning, Development Management Manager and Case Officer – on Sunday evening) at the foot of this article, for anyone to read if they are interested. 


I also objected to a weird Condition 4 in the draft decision notice, also concerning affordable housing, for which there was no mention or explanation of in the body of the Committee Report:


The opening part of the proposed Condition 4 from the draft decision notice.


If the application is approved on Wednesday, as recommended by Planning Officers, allowing affordable housing Condition 3 to stand would totally undermine the "public benefits" which the application is meant to provide. 


A minimum of 50% of the proposed new homes would be 70, leaving 69 which Brent's New Council Homes team could "convert" away from genuinely affordable LAR rent to local people in housing need. They could even be “converted” from affordable housing to private sale, leaving as few as 30 of the 99 “general needs” homes at LAR rent level, promised by the application, actually delivered by Brent Council’s Kilburn Square project.


What is equally as bad is that Planning Officers are trying to do this "by the back door". When Brent wanted to "convert" some of the Watling Gardens LAR homes to shared ownership, they had to make a fresh planning application to change Condition 3 in the 100% affordable housing consent they'd received for the scheme.


My objection is seeking to have Condition 3 of the planning consent, if Planning Committee approve the plans, require that 100% of the 139 homes should be affordable housing, as set out in the application itself. 


I am also seeking that the Condition(s) should include a requirement that any change the applicant (Brent Council!) wishes to make to that affordable housing condition should be made by way of a “material change” application under Section 73, Town and Country Planning Act 1990. That type of application requires public consultation (so the chance to object), and detailed consideration of the reasons and evidence given for seeking a change.


I had drawn attention to the discrepancy between what the Kilburn Square application promised for affordable housing and the November 2022 Cabinet decision on “conversion” of units from LAR last February (Kilburn Square – Brent must come clean on affordable housing!). When Brent’s planning agent did not submit revised affordable housing details, Brent’s Head of Planning promised that the application would be ‘considered as submitted’. 


This should have meant that the affordable housing condition would specify 100% affordable housing. To change that, by stealth, to ‘a minimum of 50% affordable housing’ feels like a dirty trick, which Brent’s Planning Officers should be ashamed of!


Philip Grant





Philip Grant said...

This is the text of the email, headed "Urgent please - Objection comments requiring Supplementary Report for Kilburn Square application 22/3669", which I sent to Brent's main Planning Officers involved with this application on Sunday evening:-

'Dear Messrs Ansell, Glover and Thompson,

I hope that my initial objection comment on 9 November alerted you to my concerns over the way in which affordable housing has been dealt with in the draft decision notice at the end of the Committee Report on application 22/3669 (Kilburn Square) for next Wednesday's Planning Committee meeting.

As Mr Ansell wrote, in an email I have quoted from, the treatment of affordable housing in this application is 'a valid concern to raise.'

I did not think there was any point in submitting the rest of my objection comment piecemeal, and it has taken me a little longer than I had hoped to complete my reasoning in support of my proposed changes to Conditions 3 and 4. The full comment has now been submitted online (in two parts).

For your ease of reference, I am attaching a pdf document version of my objection comment. I have set out clearly summaries of my objections to each of the proposed Conditions 3 and 4, so that you can simply "copy and paste" them into the "Summary of Reasons for Objection" section of your Supplementary Report to the Planning Committee.

I hope that you can accept the changes to these two Conditions which I have proposed (should the Committee decide to approve the application). If not, as I have set out a well reasoned case in support of my proposals, I will expect to see clear reasons in the Supplementary Report as to why you disagree. Thank you. Best wishes,

Philip Grant'

Philip Grant said...

The Planning Officers' Kilburn Square Supplementary Report was published on the Council's website today. I did not agree with it, so I sent them the following email (also forwarding a copy to the Chair and members of Planning Committee):

'Dear Messrs Ansell, Glover and Thompson,

I have read your Supplementary Report on the Kilburn Square application (22/3669) being considered at Planning Committee tomorrow evening.

While I follow the line of reasoning in the view you have set out in dealing with my affordable housing objection to the proposed Condition 3 in your Committee Report, I believe that it is out of touch with the reality of the situation at Kilburn Square, and the borough's housing needs. I am therefore submitting the following further objection comment:-

This objection is to the position over Affordable Housing, and Condition 3 of the draft decision notice, set out in the Supplementary Report of 14 November, in response to my objection against the same subject in the Committee Report.

The Supplementary Report states that for Condition 3 on this application: 'the 50 % threshold approach as set out in adopted planning policy is applicable.'

It also states (or claims) that: 'conditions and obligations can only secure matters that are necessary in order to ensure that a proposal accords with relevant planning policies. This is a core principle of the planning system rather than undermining it.'

However, as the planning application itself actually promises that 100% of the proposed new homes will be affordable, the applicant is not in a position to object to that percentage being included in Condition 3.

Additionally, there is a very good planning reason why the decision notice should specify 100% affordable housing, comprising 99 "general needs" residential units at London Affordable Rent level, and 40 "NAIL" units at Local Housing Allowance level, IF the application for 139 new homes at Kilburn Square is approved.

The Supplementary Report states (and claims) that: 'The discussion of benefit and harm is set out in the committee report, and the benefits of the scheme with threshold approach compliant level of 50 % Affordable Housing is sufficient to outweigh the harm discussed in the report.'

The claim that '50% Affordable Housing is sufficient to outweigh the harm' of this proposed development is frankly nonsense! There are very strong reasons put forward by the many objectors to this application showing that the scale of these proposals would do serious harm to the estate, and the living conditions of its residents.

For the "public benefits" of this scheme to outweigh that serious harm, all of the 139 homes proposed need to be Affordable Housing, with all 99 of the "general needs" homes let at London Affordable Rent level, as set out in the application itself.

100% Affordable Housing is what Condition 3 must specify that. If not, the application should be refused.

[Continued in a second comment below]

Philip Grant said...

[This is the rest of my email to Planning Officers]

'Brent's housing need is for genuinely affordable homes to rent, and the only genuinely affordable rent levels are either London Affordable Rent or the slightly lower Social Rent level (as recommended by the Brent Poverty Commission in 2020).

If Condition 3 only requires a minimum of 50% of the 139 homes to be Affordable Housing, up to 69 of the proposed new homes could be let at higher rents, or even sold privately. That would greatly undermine the "public benefits" of the application which Planning Committee is being recommended to approve.

The proposed Condition 2 in the draft decision notice requires that: ‘The development hereby permitted shall be carried out in accordance with the following approved drawing(s) and/or document(s).’ One of those documents is the Affordable Housing Statement submitted 28th November 2022 by ‘JLL’.

That document already says that the proposed 99 “general needs” homes ‘will be let at London Affordable Rent by Brent Council’, and that the 40 extra care units will be let at Local Housing Allowance rates. Making Condition 3 100% Affordable Housing, including 99 units at London Affordable Rent would be consistent with Condition 2, whereas the proposed 'minimum of 50%' would create unnecessary ambiguity.

If application 22/3669 is to be approved, the only reasonable wording for the opening of Condition 3 is:

'The development hereby approved shall contain 139 residential dwellings, 100% of which shall be Affordable Housing, with a tenure split which secures a minimum of 70 % Social Rent or London Affordable Rent homes with the remainder delivered as Intermediate homes.'

I hope you can now agree, and recommend that wording to Planning Committee at its meeting tomorrow. Yours sincerely,

Philip Grant.'

Philip Grant said...

I've just watched the live webcast of the Planning Committee meeting for the Kilburn Square application.

Whether or not 100% affordable housing should be set down in Condition 3, rather than 'a minimum of 50%' was a live issue, with 100% supported by two Kilburn Ward councillors and Cllr. Georgiou, on the basis that anything other than that would not be acceptable if the application was accepted.

After fudging around it, Planning Officers finally admitted that the Committee could impose a 100% affordable housing condition, if that was what they decided was necessary to justify the harm which the application would cause.

There was some discussion about whether Brent Council would ever reduce the level of affordable housing from 100%, given their election promises and the acknowledged need for genuinely affordable homes.

The Chair, Cllr. Kelcher, said if the Council (or Cabinet) tried to reduce the amount of affordable housing, there were ways that could be challenged, such as call-in. He then moved the discussion on to other points of the application, and never came back to the affordable housing point.

In particular, he did ask committee members whether they wished to change Condition 3 from 'a minimum of 50%' to 100%. At the end of the discussion he just asked who was in favour of accepting the recommendation to approve the application, putting up his hand and noting that five other Labour members of the Committee did the same.

Cllr. Kelcher must have known that his wife, Cllr. Mili Patel, supported a Cabinet decision in November 2022 which would mean the "conversion" of at least around 40 of the LAR homes proposed for Kilburn Square to "intermediate" homes, or even to private sale.

The Vice Chair of the Committee, Cllr. Saqib Butt, also quick to put his hand up, must have known that his brother, the Council Leader, both supported and spoke in favour of the "conversion" of LAR homes at Kilburn Square at that Cabinet meeting.

Planning Committee could have ensured that 100% of the 99 general needs homes they approved for Kilburn Square were protected as genuinely affordable homes through Condition 3. They could also have ensured that any change to that which the Council later wanted to make would have to be by way of a fresh application for a "material change" (under Section 73, Town and Country Planning Act 1990), which would then need proper scrutiny and a possible further decision by Planning Committee.

The Chair of the Committee made sure that they did not even get a vote on that point (so that he and none of the other Labour councillors were seen to be directly voting against 100% affordable homes).

That is not how planning decisions on important points should be made - but it is the level that planning in Brent has sunk to.