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Tower developers say they will suffer £70 million loss if they are not allowed to remove affordable housing

Planning inquiry over long-contested Avenue Road site

11 November, 2021 — By Tom Foot

The saga over the Swiss Cottage tower rumbles on

A DEVELOPER has claimed it will make a £70million loss if forced to stick to its own plans to build a 23-storey tower block in Swiss Cottage.

But Essential Living told a planning inquiry this week it could still make the project work if it was allowed to scrap all the affordable housing from its redevelopment of 100 Avenue Road.

It said it could not make the scheme “viable” unless it got the go-ahead to remove 36 flats it previously agreed to make available to social housing tenants.

Speaking at a planning inquiry yesterday (Wed­nesday), Jonathan McClue, from Camden’s planning team, said: “You’d be striking out a significant amount of homes that would benefit the most in-need part of the community. 100 Avenue Road would not contribute to a mixed and balanced community.

“We have some of the highest property prices in the country.”

The Belsize Society’s planning spokesman, Tom Symes, had asked him: “If a large development is created without affordable housing, will it help create a socially inclusive community?”

The developer’s appeal is the latest chapter in a long-running housing row that began in 2013 when the plan to demolish big buildings at 100 Avenue Road – which included the former Ham & High offices – was first lodged with the council. Planning chiefs initially rejected the plan, which included a new home for the Winch youth project.

But the decision was “called in” and later approved by a Conservative secretary of state in 2015. Part of the basis for that approval was “significant weight” given to the affordable homes in the tower, which the secretary of state said would benefit the community.

Residents have spent years fighting the plans, including challenging it at a judicial review in the High Court.

The developer has argued that the delays have contributed to it being left it with construction costs of £103m. Andrew Jones, a chartered surveyor and consultant, also appearing for the Town Hall, told the inquiry he did not believe the developer could make the scheme work even if it was given consent to remove the affordable housing.

He said Essential had provided “no rational assurance the stalled scheme would be delivered if the appeal process was approved”.

Figures agreed by both sides suggest Essential would have a £56m “deficit”, compared to £70m, if it was allowed to removed the affordable housing.

Gareth Turner, from Essential, said this would be “an improvement in financial performance from the current consent”, adding that the developer could make an extra £900,000 a year from charging higher rents that would “enable the appellant to deliver the scheme”.

The council is arguing that it should not be up to the planning inspectorate to “address problems which are essentially issues of developer risk”, and that the appeal should be rejected.

It also argues that Jersey-based Essential has not provided detail on why scrapping the affordable housing was the “only answer”, the inquiry heard. The inquiry continues until Friday.

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