The independent London newspaper

Town Hall told to stop developers buying their way out of affordable housing pledges with cash payments

02 November, 2015

DEVELOPERS must not be allowed to buy their way out of building affordable homes with cash payments in planning deals.

This is the message from campaigners in the south of the borough as it emerged the council is locked in a dispute with developers looking to turn composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s former offices in Tower Street, Covent Garden, into a £60million luxury residential development.

English Rose Estates bought the building last year and has already secured planning permission to convert it into 22 homes

It now wants to be excused from including four affordable flats in the scheme, as previously agreed, but says it can make a contribution to social housing elsewhere.

The practice of “payment in lieus” is common in local government planning negotiations if authorities can agree the sum that should be paid.

At Tower Street, however, Camden’s planning department has rejected English Rose’s offer of £250,000. The dispute is set to be resolved by an independent planning inspector. 

Camden says a payment of £1.4million should be made, but the developer maintains that would make its scheme unviable.

Regardless of the sum, residents and campaigners in the area say substituting money for social homes risks changing the make-up of the neighbourhood, which in recent years has attracted major developers looking to make the most of London’s lucrative residential property market.

Meredith Whiten, from Covent Garden Community Association, said: “Providing affordable housing is an important policy aim, as providing a mix of housing units for a diverse range of residents – and not simply wealthy residents – is critical to the vibrant and equitable community that has historically existed in Covent Garden.”

Ward councillor Sue Vincent said: “The direction of travel on having mixed communities is in jeopardy, not just through the English Rose application, although this is an example of how developers attempt to circumnavigate our planning policies. Greed has taken over the ‘quality of place and life’ for a mono-tenure that benefits the few.”

Labour Party colleague Councillor Awale Olad added: “Almost all private developers in our area are now removing the obligation and duty to provide social housing for local people. We always put up strong, sometimes successful, fights against them but unfortunately Boris Johnson has set a new precedent with his recent decision on Mount Pleasant – an 800-unit luxury development with zero affordable homes. That disastrous, anti-social housing decision has incentivised every major developer in our area so we end up with farcical proposals like this one in Tower Street.”

The Tower Street building is let to Lord Lloyd Webber’s The Really Useful Group, but he has moved most of its operations to nearby Slingsby Street. The conversion is due to begin when the offices become vacant. 

Agents for English Rose told the planning appeal that Camden has a track record of accepting payments in lieu and the company had made a fair offer.

Promoting the changes, English Rose director Ockert van der Berg said earlier this year: “It is a beautiful building and one of a number of developments we have in and around Covent Garden. There is immensely strong demand from local and international buyers who have bought into the Covent Garden lifestyle.”



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