Tuesday 9 January 2024

Wembley Housing Zone – Brent’s Cecil Avenue development downsized!

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


Revised East and South elevation drawings for Brent’s Cecil Avenue development.


It may not look any smaller, but as disclosed in the Affordable Housing Supply Update report to December’s Brent Cabinet meeting, the number of homes to be built on the Council’s Cecil Avenue development has been reduced. The reason is the need for second staircases, because of new fire regulations introduced as a result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.


I mentioned this in a guest post last month, Brent’s Affordable Council Housing – open and transparent?, when I wrote: ‘the report does not say how many of the new figure of 237 homes will be for private sale, and how many of those left for the Council will now be for “genuinely affordable” rent, rather than shared ownership. A lack of openness, which I will try to remedy!’ 


I’ve now received a reply to a Freedom of Information request, and can provide the answer. Cecil Avenue is part of a wider Wembley Housing Zone (“WHZ”) project, together with Ujima House, on the opposite side of the High Road. Brent Council’s contract with Wates in March 2023, said each would have half (152 out of 304) of the WHZ homes. However, all of the Wates homes, for private sale, would be on the more desirable Cecil Avenue site. 


The revised split of the Cecil Avenue homes, from Brent’s 8 January FoI response.


These figures show that although there will now be thirteen fewer homes on the Cecil Avenue development, those going to Wates will only be 2 less, while Brent Council loses 11. This is partly compensated for by the revised proportion of family-sized homes going in Brent’s favour. The Council will now have 71.4% of the family-sized homes, rather than 68.75%, but the total number of family-sized homes at Cecil Avenue has been reduced from 64 to 42, as part of rearranging the unit sizes to fit in the staircases.


Surely these changes would need planning permission? They did! An application was submitted on 21 August 2023, but Brent’s planners treated it as “non-material” amendments to the original consent given in February 2021, so that it was not publicised or consulted on. The application was approved by the Delegated Team Manager on 30 October 2023.


The heading to the Delegated Planning report, October 2023.


The report on this application (23/2774) makes clear that despite the WHZ involving two sites and a combined building contract, for planning purposes the Cecil Avenue application must be looked at on its own. Brent’s planning policies require that large housing schemes, such as this one, should provide 50% affordable housing. These revised proposals only provide 36.7% (and only 48.5% if the whole WHZ scheme is taken together). If it had been 50% at Cecil Avenue, there should have been at least 118 affordable homes on the site, not just 87 out of 237.


Brent’s affordable housing planning policies require a tenure split of at least 70% of the affordable housing to be “genuinely affordable”. The 56 homes at London Affordable Rent (“LAR”) out of 87 “affordable” Council homes is only 64.4% (62.4% over the WHZ scheme as a whole). Despite not meeting either of Brent’s planning policy percentages for affordable homes, the amended application was accepted. 


The only “good news” this time is that 21 of the 28 family-sized homes for Council tenants at LAR (down from 35 family-sized, on the figures supplied to me last July) will be 4-bedroom homes, with private gardens. There is currently a desperate need for these large family homes for affordable rent in the borough. It is unfortunate that, because of more than two years delay by Brent Council, in going down the “developer partner” route, it will be nearly three years before these homes are actually available! And LAR rent figures exclude service charges, which could bring the total bill up to as much as 80% of local open market rent level.


Extract from the approved documents for the amended application 23/2774.


35.6% of the “affordable” Council homes at Cecil Avenue will be what is known as Intermediate homes. This is a summary of what these 31 homes comprise:


Extract from the approved documents for the amended application 23/2774.


As shown in the information provided to me above, 28 of these homes will be for shared ownership (despite there being a surplus of these in the borough, it not being affordable to most people in housing need – a household income of £60k a year required to afford a 1-bedroom flat - and shared ownership being a “scam”!). What about the 3 “other affordable” homes? The planning application documents show that these Brent Council homes are intended to be sold, by Wates, as Discount Market Sale (”DMS”) homes.


The DMS homes must be ‘offered to Eligible Purchasers for sale at a price that is no more than 80 (eighty) per cent of Open Market Value, with the Council retaining and holding the remaining equity under an equitable charge’. To be an eligible purchaser for one of these 1 or 2-bedroom flats you would (on current figures) need to have an annual household income of no more than £90k. Affordable?


It is not just the number of homes (and affordable homes) which has been downsized in the amended plans for the Cecil Avenue development. In his reply to an email I had sent him about the Council’s Cecil Avenue development in February 2022 (that’s nearly 2 years ago!), Cllr. Muhammed Butt spoke proudly of ‘a new publicly accessible open space during this latest development. A positive outcome for the residents of Brent.’


My guest post including his reply did concede that: ‘The approved plans for the Cecil Avenue site include a courtyard garden square. This would mainly be for the benefit of residents, but there would be public access to it, through an archway from Wembley High Road.’ All of the tower block developments, existing and planned, along this stretch of the High Road, will bring thousands of extra residents within a short walk of this ‘publicly accessible open space.’ However, that too has been downsized:


Paragraph from the Delegated Planning Report on application 23/2774.


The amended external amenity space may just ‘exceed the minimum requirement’ for play space needed by the reduced number of future occupants at Cecil Avenue, but there will be little to spare for the other ‘residents of Brent’. 


Delay and downsizing. What more can go wrong for a Brent Council housing scheme, on Council-owned land, which received full planning consent on 5 February 2021? If only Brent had got on and borrowed the funds to build it, at the very low interest rates at then, and hired a contractor straight away, they could have had 250 (or at least 237) affordable Council homes at Cecil Avenue available in 2024, rather than 87 in late 2026.


Philip Grant.


Anonymous said...

The London Borough of B~ent continues the slide towards being a bankrupt borough whose main aim is to line the pockets of developers and investors at the expense of its residents.

Anonymous said...

Brent is beginning to look very silly indeed and the residents will pay the carpetbaggers

Jaine Lunn said...

The level of amenity space going spare for the other residents of Bent can be found south of this development on what used to be called "Coplands Fields". Since the development of Ark Academy the Public owned land was transferred to Ark, which they don't use but have installed 3m high fencing and locked gates to deny access for all local Residents, the general public from using!!!!