The Independent London Newspaper
19th January 2017

Planners’ fury as firm axes affordable homes at luxury development

    The Grade II-listed former school building in Covent Garden

    The Grade II-listed former school building in Covent Garden, which has also been used as offices for theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, is to be converted into ‘spacious and luxurious’ apartments

    Cllr Sue Vincent: ‘Don’t come again to my ward’. Danny Beales: ‘They should be ashamed’

    Published: 19 May, 2016
    by RICHARD OSLEY

    PLANNERS could barely contain their fury as luxury home developers left the Town Hall with a deal to make a cash payment in return for ditching affordable housing units previously agreed for a prime site in Covent Garden.

    Councillors were unrestrained in their criticism as English Rose Estates said it was no longer viable for the four cheaper homes to be included in a redevelopment project in Tower Street, already being marketed as an opportunity to buy “spacious and luxurious”  apartments in an “uber-cultural” part of the city.

    The company is converting a Grade II-listed former school building which in the past has been used as offices for theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber before he found new headquarters for his Really Useful Group.

    After long-drawn-out negotiations, a planning inspector had ordered the council to find a way of getting the stalled scheme back up and running.

    This led to an offer from English Rose to pay £500,000 in return for being excused from providing affordable homes, under a system known as “payments in lieu”.

    In a split 4-3 vote, the planning committee on Thursday agreed to accept the deal to end the deadlock and get the work started.

    The case, however, has left a bitter taste at the Town Hall, and has raised questions as to whether developers should be able to pay their way out of meeting affordable housing expectations in the middle of a city-wide housing crisis.

    It has also led to wider discussion as to how to make sure affordable homes are included in central London schemes, with concern that Camden’s mixed-wealth community is under threat if developers only build pricier, private market housing.

    Labour councillor Danny Beales said: “The developers have behaved in a quite appalling way. They should be ashamed of themselves in my opinion.”

    He said English Rose should offer to open up its figures once the project was complete to show how much profit had been made on the new private market homes.

    “I would like to ask the developer why they are so against an outturn (post-construction) review which would be based on fact, and the facts of the profit they make,” he added. “That’s open and honest for the community in Camden and for councillors, to see what profit they genuinely make.”

    He told the developer: “Maybe I’m just a naturally sceptical person but to me it rings alarm bells. It suggests that you suspect that maybe you will make more money and this is the way to just get it done quickly behind closed doors without having to deal with the reality of potentially paying more.”

    Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea told the meeting the council had been backed into a corner, adding: “The sheer meanness means that we get the fuzzy end of the lollipop at the end of the day. This is a real shame that we cannot get four affordable units out of this development. £500,000, it’s not going to buy us a house these days. When I think what they are going to make out of their 22 units I’m absolutely appalled.”

    Holborn councillor Sue Vincent said: “I’ve never come across these gentlemen from English Rose before. I hope they don’t come again to my ward.” 

    Planning chairwoman Heather Johnson said it might make councillors take all developers’ applications with a “pinch of salt” if there was a risk that a “fortnight later they’ll be back saying: ‘Sorry we offered you this but now we can’t do it’”.

    A spokesman for English Rose said that the post-construction reviews were normally used in larger developments.

    He rejected claims that the company had acted unfairly. It had worked with council officers to agree a deal, rather than fighting the case through the judicial system.

    “We chose the route to come to officers and members to agree a scheme at local level which avoided us all going to the High Court,” he told the meeting. The approach is not one of unreasonableness at all. We’ve come to you when we could’ve got judicial relief. We have come to discuss it so it’s an agreeable solution which accords with local and national policy. 

    “It’s give and take. In this instance, you are ­guaranteeing yourselves £500,­000 against potential zip. If I came forward with a scheme which said nothing was payable, you might end up with nothing. Instead, you are getting £500,000, which is not an inconsequential sum.”

    When the application to remove the affordable homes was first submitted, Meredith Whiten, from Covent Garden Community Association, said: “Providing affordable housing is an important policy aim. 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.”

    Comments

    English Rose Developers

    We need to know the names of the councillors who agreed this criminal deal. What can we do to overturn it?

    So very depressing.

    English Rose Developers

    English Rose are one of the worst companies I have come across. I have had the unfortunate scenario of purchasing a home from them . When I read this story it sounds very much like the owners of English Rose. Anybody reading this , I am looking for a solicitor to help me fight English Rose . Plus anybody do not do business with these people.

    Surprise surprise

    Of course developers are going to get out of providing affordable housing if they can instead make a cash payment and sell the houses that would have been adorable on the open market for so much more than the cash payment to the council (plus the developers have the added bonus of not having riffraff occupying the same building - no need for a poor door either).

    Why has the government allowed developers to do this?

    Sneaky English Rose Estates

    I see English Rose Estates use the motto "Looking after London's Heritage". What a shame they can't look after local people who need affordable housing.

    I just had a look on Rightmove and the cheapest residential property for sale in Covent Garden is £600,000 for a bedsit (sorry, "studio flat") so this half a million pounds is a insult considering it's not enough to even buy one flat that can be used for affordable housing, let alone four!

    How does this greedy developer get away with paying such a small amount in exchange for not providing FOUR affordable housing flats?

    The spokesman for English Rose Estates shows what these people are like - they think they're doing us all a favour by giving money to the council instead of providing affordable housing, when in reality this decision will probably make them at least a couple of extra million pounds at the expense of everyone else.

    I'm disappointed with the four councillors who voted in favour of this deal and would like to know their names. I'm sure they didn't truly support this and only voted the way they did to prevent costly legal fees if it went to the High Court but at the end of the day, Camden Council needs to stand up to these greedy developers, otherwise this sort of thing will happen more often as developers know they can walk all over councils and councils won't fight back due to the fear of running up large legal bills. I'm sure the council would have won in court anyway as the deal offered by English Rose Estates would be seen as unreasonable to any normal person - who in their right mind would think £500,000 is a fair trade-off for four flats in Central London?.

    What again?

    It was split 4/3 - why did they accept ... why not just throw the developers off site. That sum of money is nothing in this day and age. Over and over again Camden make these mistakes. Dalby Street being another one ...

    English Rose did Fitrovia and Gospel Oak.

    What is Cllr Vincent going on about? Wasn't it that she who had to apologise about Fitzrovia. Hell hath no fury like a non-luvvie scorned!

    They do bleat on!

    If the local planning authority was any good which it isn't as Cllr. leyland pointed out last year, these things would stop. What does Cllr. Jones do all day? In a borough where the CIP could go into deficit if house prices don't keep rising can his fellow councillors really be surprised? I am quite sure Sir Keir and Jezza could have a word with Sadiq Khan and have public buildings (even-ex ones) returned to public use or affordable/social housing.

    Post new comment

    By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.