The council’s new office block in King’s Cross
Published: 9 April, 2015
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
DEVELOPERS behind the massive £2bn redevelopment of King’s Cross are trying to cut the number of affordable homes to be built on the site – eight years after a legal agreement was signed with the Town Hall.
Argent Limited won permission to carry out the controversial construction project at the vast railway lands behind King’s Cross and St Pancras stations in 2006, in the face of opposition from those who felt more of the land should be used for low-rent homes.
At 67 acres, it is one of the largest brownfield sites in Europe and was viewed by housing campaigners as a perfect opportunity to help alleviate Camden’s chronic shortage of homes.
In the final agreement Argent pledged that of the 1,946 homes to be built on the site, 750 would be affordable.
But the developers are now looking to change the terms of an agreement with Camden Council, so they can provide 21 fewer social homes and 96 fewer “intermediate rent” homes. They will instead provide 100 extra high-end flats to be sold on the private market.
The development had been billed as 43 per cent affordable, but the changes will mean it is closer to 33 per cent – far below the council target of 50 per cent. Camden Council has so far supported the change.
Green councillor Sian Berry said it was “really poor” of Argent to be seeking to reduce the number of affordable homes, adding: “There’s no way Camden should accept this, especially given how hard the local community fought to get even the previous proportion. It really should have been 50 per cent at a minimum.”
She said: “As it’s the most valuable development site in Europe they certainly could afford to stick to their original promises at least.”
The King’s Cross railway lands development has drawn plaudits for the way it has revamped a wasteland left rotting for decades, with its notorious reputation for shady drug deals and street-walking prostitution.
Cllr Sian Berry: Homes cut ‘really poor’
Although the construction work continues on the site, new public areas are already drawing in visitors. The council has itself moved into a new block of offices there.
Housing campaigners remain convinced that there should have been more room on such an expansive site for affordable homes, specifically family-sized units.
Camden planning chief Phil Jones said the council had made the “best of a bad situation”. Cuts to government subsidies for social housing meant Argent could have chosen to reduce the number of social homes on the current phase of the project from 148 to 74, he said. Negotiations with the Town Hall meant that 127 social units would be built.
He said: “We’ve tried to protect as many social-rented units as possible, so we’ve sacrificed some of the intermediate units, because they are no longer really affordable in Camden.
“What we have tried to do is: we’ve lost those units, we’ve said that’s fine because it’s not a real loss, so instead of going down to 74 it’s 127. It’s less than we would have had, which should have been 148 that was agreed back in the day, but it’s a lot better than having 74, which is where we would have ended.”
A condition of the legal contract, called a Section 106 agreement, that would have forced Argent to build a nursing home will also be deleted under the new plans.
The application for the amendment says: “There is no particular identified need for nursing, residential or extra care beds for older people and, given the existing constraints on council budgets, it is not considered to be in the public interest to invest the level of funding required into the facility in this location previously contemplated and provided for in the agreement.”
A briefing document given to councillors says: “It is now eight years since the original S106 agreement was signed for the redevelopment of King’s Cross Central.
“The affordable housing element of the overall development has changed in a number of aspects due to different factors, including the economy, political changes, reductions in subsidy from the GLA [Greater London Authority] and changes to affordable housing tenure.”
Cllr Berry said that a “massive rise in house prices” had occurred at the same time as the subsidy cut, adding: “It’s still not good enough in my opinion for Argent to go back on the agreement.”
Marian Larragy, from King’s Cross Railway Lands Group, which has been scrutinising plans for the site for more than 30 years, said: “On the face of it, it seems quite disgraceful.”
“London will never be a mixed community if there isn’t adequate social housing. In terms of the ethos of Camden and Islington that’s disastrous.”
She added: “You also have to subtract the 150 homes that were on the site and were demolished.”
She said blame should be apportioned to government and London Mayor Boris Johnson, who, she said, “didn’t make a squeak when we lost the subsidy for social housing”.