LAMBETH COUNCIL ALLOWED PRIVATE DEVELOPER TO REDUCE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Lambeth council’s claim they need to demolish six council estates to build more housing lie open to question today after it emerged they allowed a private developer to REDUCE the amount of affordable housing on the Streatham Megabowl site.
Details come in a new High Court judgment against Lambeth – this time involving a Freedom of Information request – and recent figures which show Lambeth have MORE THAN 600 empty homes on their books.
Developers London Square bought the Streatham Megabowl site at Streatham Hill in 2014 after planning permission had been previously granted to another developer.
They then sought to reduce the amount of affordable housing to just 15.8 per cent on a per unit basis – when Lambeth council’s own policy requirement is 40 per cent.
Former Lambeth Liberal Democrat Cllr Jeremy Clyne made a Freedom of Information request to Lambeth council in February 2015 asking for a copy of a viability study on the scheme prepared by consultants acting for London Square.
Lambeth refused. Mr Clyne took his request to the |nformation Commissioner who backed Lambeth – so Mr Clyne took his request to the High Court.
David Joyce, a senior Council officer responsible for, amongst other things, determining planning applications and planning policy, said affordable housing needs were as high as 70 per cent and that provision was far below the 40pc target.
But this development was small and was of little relevance to the larger need for affordable housing as it concerned small numbers.
The revised proposal increased the residential units from 243 to 259; At the date of the request, public consultation indicated that the level of affordable housing, whilst a concern, was not a dominant issue.
He did not consider that the developer was seeking to ‘water down’ a package of planning obligations or reduce the public benefits soon after acquiring the site for no satisfactory reason. It was putting forward a viable scheme in the prevailing market conditions.
The affordable housing was reduced from 45 to 37 units. However, importantly, there were 7 more social rented units where the council had assessed the greatest demand would be for this.
The Appellant (Mr Clyne) stated that the development was being marketed to investors in Malaysia and the UAE where it was suggesting the development was a prime example of the London house price surge, fuelled by an influx of foreign investors, and that prices could go through the roof.
Despite London Square’s website declaring that sales would not be launched until early Summer, a launch in Malaysia last October was already reported.
The South China Morning Post had singled out the development in an article on Chinese buyers looking for a safe investment in UK property as a “store of wealth” and saying there was strong interest from Chinese buyers in the London Square scheme in Streatham.
Whilst the reduction in affordable housing was only eight units, the development had become vastly more profitable since 2010 when the market had been depressed and the original low percentage of affordable housing had been agreed.
House values had increased substantially in recent years. The development would have a ‘tremendous impact on the character of the local area’ and the public had a legitimate interest in knowing how the developer established it could not satisfy the council’s core strategy requirements. ……reducing affordable housing in that climate was a legitimate public concern.
He considered that disclosure would give the public confidence that the decisions taken were reliable and in the public interest where there had been concern and scepticism about the whole planning process and where property values had increased considerably such that he would have expected a higher level of affordable housing rather than a reduction.
It was important to understand what was going on.
Lambeth council’s submissions included the following:
The request occurred at a time when the planning proposal had not been finalised or submitted to the planning committee.
Whilst there was legitimate public interest in transparency about such developments and planning applications, it was very difficult to articulate a cogent public interest case for disclosure in relation to the material.
The ruling, dated June 20th, says: “Within twenty working days of the date of promulgation of this decision, the requested material is to be disclosed to the Appellant with the exception of the period that a developer intended to offer a discount or the rent-free period as referred to in paragraph 10 of this decision.”
Further reading: Controversial Streatham Megabowl development approved. Report by Matt Watts. Streatham Guardian 21 Apr 2010.
Scandal of 7,500 council homes lying empty in London by Pippa Crerar Evening Standard May 25th 2016
The link to the actual judgement can be found on the Brixton Buzz website: Lambeth Council told by Judge to make public details of developers trying to wriggle out of affordable housing by Jason Cobb July 1st 2016. Link is in third paragraph ‘The ruling’. (Search ‘Megabowl’)