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Affordable homes ruling ‘dispiriting’

Developer allowed to sidestep guidelines as it gets the go-ahead to replace Georgian houses

01 November, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Some of the properties in Haverstock Hill that will be replaced with flats

A PROJECT to demolish a set of Georgian houses and replace them with a block of 29 flats with shops and cafés on the ground floor could have such slim profit margins that the developers asked Camden Council if they could ignore the Town Hall’s guidelines of including any affordable homes or making any contribution towards housing.

The scheme, which was passed by planning committee councillors on Thursday, will see the block of late-Georgian homes – currently with 11 flats – at the foot of Haverstock Hill, Chalk Farm, demolished and replaced with 29 new flats, shops and a café.

But developers PPL Haverstock Hill claimed they could not afford to build the new block if they are compelled to stick to the council’s planning guidelines, which would mean including six affordable homes. They also baulked at a payment calculated by officers of £2,272,905 in lieu of no affordable housing on site.

The planning committee heard evidence that states the proposals would not make enough profit for the developers if they provide any affordable or social housing on the site. Auditor BPS, working for the Town Hall, looked over the developer’s figures and disagreed that for them to go ahead with the project, there would be no affordable housing on site nor a payment in lieu.

Instead, BPS sought a compromise that the developer could pay £1million as a contribution towards affordable housing elsewhere in the borough.

Their report added: “BPS are of the view that the current offer now represents the maximum contribution that the viability position of the scheme can support. Given the conclusion of BPS, council officers accept that the proposed payment-in-lieu is acceptable.”

The meeting heard that the council could later revisit the project to examine whether any further contributions could be made.

Highgate ward Labour councillor Anna Wright, who sits on the planning committee, expressed dismay that the project did not contribute to tackling the lack of affordable housing in Camden.

She said: “We would be hoping for at least six affordable flats and the applicant says it is not feasible – and is then arguing that it is not affordable to pay £1m in lieu.

“I understand the viability issue and I want to make it very clear that I find this an incredibly dispiriting application. On this location there is no strong reason why this is not suitable for some social and affordable housing. In every way we should be hoping for some affordable housing units.

“I just wish we could be in a situation where developers were working with us instead of against is. I have read the papers that built up the argument that there were not sufficient profits, but I also know many of our residents believe that figures get massaged. I find this whole thing very, very dispiriting.”

Her views were echoed by Labour councillor Danny Beales. He said: “If you are a member of the public and you hear a developer saying they can’t afford anything, and then offering £1m, it does strike you as slightly bizarre.”

The project was also criticised by the Camden Design Review Panel, a Town Hall advisory group made up of architects and planners to offer industry expertise.

They said they could not back the project due to the interior layouts of the flats being proposed.

They said: “The bulk and form are appropriate, and would create an effective frontage on Chalk Farm Road. However, the quality of the accommodation requires significant improvement. It is likely that the number of apartments proposed for the site will need to be reduced in order to address issues, including sub-standard basement-level amenity spaces and poorly-lit flats on several floors.”

They added that rubbish and bicycle storage needed to be re-thought and that the type of brick and facade should also be revisited to fit in with buildings also along Haverstock Hill.

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