Time to close the Red Door?

14 Jun

By Conor McAuley

On 18 July last year Newham Council’s Strategic Development Committee, after a long discussion, approved a major planning application (No 17/00951/FUL) to build 100 flats in buildings ranging from 2 to 23 floors at London Road E13 and a further 82 flats in buildings up to 15 floors at Valetta Grove E13.  These are two sites sitting on Plaistow Road beside and opposite Plaistow Station.

A total of 182 “residential units”, all to be let at “market rents”, intended for Newham Council’s private renting company Red Door Ventures (RDV) at two locations that would appeal to commuters.

There was considerable public interest in this application and a number of objectors addressed the committee. They were listened to but ignored.

Clearly as Newham Council owned both sites, the complete absence of affordable housing within this application, can only have been deliberate and not the product of some dodgy developer’s “viability assessment”.

Instead Red Door Ventures proposed to deliver 45 affordable units in three “linked sites” at Eve Road E15, Baxter Road/Alnwick Rd E16 and Chargeable Lane E13. These sites were covered by three separate planning applications on the same committee agenda.

This was a device to subvert the planning policy requirement to deliver 50% affordable housing that would otherwise be required. Except of course that 45 units when added to the 182 non-affordable units gives us 227. The four linked planning applications (barely) delivered 20% affordable units.

So this left an affordable housing shortfall of 30% or 68.5 units.

A further device was then employed to help bridge the gap so to speak: the “review mechanism”.

Here I quote directly from the committee report; ‘To ensure that the proposal fully complies with the Newham Core Strategy and London Plan target of 50% affordable housing, a review mechanism is proposed that shall capture any uplift in scheme viability.

Once the ‘Break Even Rental Threshold’ (BERT) has been achieved the Planning Authority will receive 50% of the net additional revenue generated, where the profit level is between 15% and 24.99%, and 70% where profit is above a 25% threshold’.

I trust you have followed the logic so far.

The only real link between the four planning applications is that the sites involved are within the same borough. They are only “linked” in this process to enable Red Door Ventures to avoid having to provide affordable housing on the more valuable site adjacent to Plaistow Station. The “review mechanism” then kicks the remaining shortfall of 65.5 units into the even longer grass.

This was a perversion of the Council’s Planning regime and it was a disgrace that the then Committee Chair, Cllr Ken Clark, allowed these applications to be pushed through in this manner. Indeed, it was Cllr Clark who moved acceptance of the recommendations.

The four planning approvals were then to be wrapped up into a series of S106 Planning Agreements. The Strategic Development Committee decreed that these legal agreements should be completed and signed by 18 January 2018.

Subsequently, in November the Committee moved the completion deadlines to 18 May 2018.

It would appear that these legal agreements have not yet been signed because a further report (item 14) has been tabled on the agenda for the Strategic Development Committee meeting (next week) on 19 June seeking a further extension of the deadlines to 9 November 2018.

The report goes further, to say that if the legal agreements have not been completed, the Head of Planning has delegated authority to refuse the planning permissions.

Surely this is the moment when our elected representatives could signal a sea change in Newham’s housing strategy. It’s the time to end the expansion of Red Door Ventures and to start building genuine affordable and social housing again.

This is not a decision to be delegated to a Council officer.

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