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.”