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As developers wriggle, let’s hear it for the campaigners

COMMENT: Developers routinely promise the earth to planning committee in their bid to make a fast buck

11 November, 2021

An illustration of how the proposed 23-storey tower block at 100 Avenue Road in Swiss Cottage could look

IS there a sorrier spectacle than a Jersey-based developer trying to wriggle out of its affordable housing commitments?

There was a grotty feel to proceedings in the Crowndale Centre this week as Essential Living pleaded poverty on its £100million tower block plan at 100 Avenue Road.

The inquiry heard how scrapping the social housing element would allow it to claw back around £15million of those losses, and around an extra one million pounds a year from higher rents.

What a pittance £15million is when compared to the lasting and cumulative impact of 36 affordable rent homes in Camden.

It is also hard to believe that an established developer like Essential, which has completed several major regeneration projects across the capital, is incapable of making this project work.

The arguments feel like more smoke and mirrors in what is fast becoming one of Camden’s longest-running planning sagas.

If Essential Living cannot follow through with the plan it put forward, and fought so hard to get approved, following a series of applications and appeals, hard cheese.

It is questionable whether a planning inquiry should even be tasked with considering how much profit it will or won’t make.

But if the company is truly facing ruin because of rising costs, someone else needs to come in and do it instead, or come up with a new plan.

Developers routinely promise the earth to planning committee in their bid to make a fast buck.

It has become an almost inevitable routine that they will return after a scheme has won approval, sometimes years, and request significant amendments.

It seems far too easy for developers to take control of a site and then leave it demolished or vacant for years.

There should be heavy financial penalties for failing to build a scheme, with its promised extras, once planning permission has been granted.

The original Swiss Cottage plans were approved against the wishes of residents.

They did not just wilt away after the decision went against them, but instead continued to campaign and give up lots of personal time, attending endless meetings and launching a legal challenge in 2019.

Some of the more resilient campaigners were sitting dutifully in the inquiry this week to hear at times mind-numbing to-and-fro of lawyers and planning experts. They should be applauded for sticking with this battle over so many years.

Also credit where credit is due. It has been encouraging to see Camden Council fighting its corner on behalf of the community.

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