Greenwich Council plans to reveal ‘affordable’ housing assessments

Quintain plans for Peninsula Quays site

This has been covered elsewhere but it’s worth noting a welcome change of heart from Greenwich Council – it wants to force developers to reveal why they can’t provide set amounts of ‘affordable’ housing in the borough.

The council’s consulting on new rules on the information firms must provide when they apply for planning permission. If big developments have less than 35% “affordable” housing, then homebuilders must submit a viability assessment that outlines why they can’t afford to do it. Greenwich’s plan would see this assessment made public, along with other documents.

It’s a striking U-turn from the council’s attitude over the Peninsula Quays development (pictured above). Greenwich fought all the way to a tribunal to stop having to reveal Knight Dragon’s reasons why it slashed “affordable” housing to 0% in a development including a private school, “high-end private residential” units and a four/five star hotel.

The documents have been released and are currently being studied – and it’s worth noting that Knight Dragon, which recently pushed its Peninsula plans with an “urban village fete“, hasn’t included any “affordable” housing details in its latest masterplan for the area.

Viability assessments and the Peninsula Quays case featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics London a few weeks back – thanks to Alex Ingram for the recording.

Anything to open up the planning process has to be applauded, and while it’s a shame it took a court case to get here, it may be that Greenwich are actually pioneers here.

Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe said: “This is about transparency for local people. At the moment our hands are tied on affordable housing levels if the viability study shows a development won’t work financially with the levels of affordable housing we want.

“This will now allow the whole process to be far more transparent – making the viability studies publicly available as part of the planning documents means the royal borough and residents alike can see precisely why a developer might claim they cannot meet our affordable housing targets.

“We believe we’re the first local authority in the country to be doing this – looking at policy which insists on these studies being in the public domain. We now want to hear what people think about this policy so please do give us your views.”

Former Conservative leader Spencer Drury has cast doubt on whether the transparency will make any difference, tweeting that “council attitude is key”.

Indeed, despite a snippy response from Thorpe, one argument put forward by the council when it was fighting the release of the Peninsula Quays documents is that few people would understand them.

But with residents’ groups growing over recent years and working together on scrutinising these issues – at least in Greenwich and Charlton – they may have an increased capacity to hold developers, planners and councillors to account. (The big omission is Woolwich, where despite much social media chatter, there is no formal residents’ group to take on these kinds of issues.)

To find out more on the consultation, visit the www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/haveyoursay and send a response by 22 June.

8 comments

  1. This is really good news and fair play to RBG for pushing forward on it. Although the consultation document is 28 pages long, it’s a reasonably easy to read digest, and I would urge anyone with an interest in planning and development to find the time to respond. The sense I get is that the more support the Council get from local residents on this issue the better, so please do make your views heard.

  2. I don’t know why the council just doesn’t admit their hands are pretty much tied either way? If they refuse planning permission, developers can go to the Planning Inspectorate and GLA. Now in the case of the Peninsula, the GLA is actually the landowner. RBG has high delivery targets set by GLA which mainly involve the Peninsula. The issue is very complicated and it’s worth bearing in mind that under the previous developers (and a Mayor who insisted on a 50% affordable housing split), nothing happened on the Peninsula. Except for landbanking.

    RBG gets a lot of flack for this but in reality there isn’t much they can do. If they refuse permission, they would be accused of being protagonists and holding up housebuilding, by many including the Tory Mayor.

  3. Shivanee – I don’t know why they don’t admit it, on this and many other things. I could go round the whole area pointing out many really really unpopular developments which they get the blame for – when the truth is that the council and councillors opposed it and that planning consent was given by the Planning Inspectorate. Its undemocratic, and expensive. The Inspectors don’t have to take local feelings into account – one hearing I was at a couple of years ago the Inspector refused to let the local Vicar – Graham Aldridge – speak, saying they weren’t interested in the issues he wanted to raise….. and so on. Saying you have lost on an issue doesn’t hurt, you might feel silly and defeated – but being honest is much more useful.

  4. I find the whole concept of Affordable Housing in London a joke. I see one bed flats selling for in excess of £250k which means buyers starting out would need a mortgage of £200k allowing for (a whopping) £50k deposit that most lenders now require since they squandered away our cash in 2008. Now they decide to be “cautious” and “prudent”. So, for a single person on a salary of £30k with a take home pay of £1960/month, £1055/month of that will go on a 4% interest rate mortgage. Once you add the other bills – energy, insurances, service charges, food, travel etc, there is precious little left. Thats barely affordable in my book.

  5. Great to see Greenwich making this change on the back of my FOI request. I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with a major news story on the issue coming out later this month!

  6. Larry – unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible for a single to person to get a full mortgage on their own, this is not new either – though media interest only recent. I had work friends who moved away ten years ago as they calculated they’d have to wait for a partner to get settled in London. Their y research suggested they’d had to go as far as Basildon, Essex for a small one bed (salary circa 26k) – even with a deposit from Granny! They took a career move to Bristol instead.

    I personally think Shared Ownership (shared equity) should be increased as it’s the only realistic way for singles/couples to accumulate a deposit for a full mortgage. Not perfect but beats throwing money in rent. Though should also remember that some parts of Greenwich borough are still relatively cheap by London’s standards. Those who turn their nose up at unfashionable ungentrified areas are their own fools. When Crossrail comes, these areas won’t be cheaper for much longer.

  7. Mary – you are right, the Inspectorate or GLA won’t look at local feelings. There are all sorts of pressures on central government and one is value for money (public sector equivalent of ‘return on investment.’). The GLA will be as keen as the developer for the Peninsula’s land value to maximise – and they will be under pressure from the NAO (if it’s still around) and parliamentary select committees to deliver returns for the taxpayer (as the Peninsula cost a lot to decontaminate).

    Given the £12bn in cuts and without Lib Dem coalition partners, the new government will probably be looking at the ‘value for money’ aspect of affordable housing. Councils and Housing Associations (HAs) are having their funding slashed. HAs will be affected by the Right to Buy manifesto commitment and councils want more control over housebuilding and where regeneration money is spent. So policy may change.

    It’s important to remember that whilst this side of the borough is seeing unprecedented private capital investment (due to it’s location) – housing, cruise terminals, new shopping precincts etc; other parts are a very different picture and private investment may/may not be so forthcoming. Meanwhile, Londoners of all incomes want to buy homes at an affordability in their reach wherever they can – as long as with transport links. Putting a few people in the most expensive parts of the borough doesn’t help to resolve this very big increasing problem.

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