Tag Archives: Conor McAuley

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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The Olympic Stadium Debacle

4 Dec

Cllr Conor McAuley

Councillor Conor McAuley has written to all members of the council about the Olympic stadium disaster.

Prior to 2014, Cllr McAuley sat in Sir Robin’s cabinet as Executive Member for Regeneration & Strategic Planning. He was also on the planning committee of the Olympic Delivery Authority and the planning decisions committee of the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Colleagues,

I cannot be the only Council member appalled at the loss of £52.2 million invested by this Council into the Olympic Stadium.

To make matters worse, the statements and press releases from Newham Council on the matter have only sought to mislead both elected members of the Council and the public.

Mayor Wales tells us that he is “angry that the deals and decisions made by the former Mayor of London and his administration have left the stadium finances in such a dreadful mess”. 

This is an outrageous attempt by Robin Wales to wash his hands of responsibility for his role in this mess. The E20 LLP company was established in 2012 as a joint vehicle for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and Newham Legacy Investments to “deliver the post-Olympic Games transformation and operation of the Stadium.”

Newham Council were partners in this disaster with the LLDC. In the years since the incorporation of this partnership Newham members or officers have, as board members, jointly signed off the E20 LLP accounts. (Robin Wales in 2014, Kim Bromley-Derry in 2015 and Cllr Lester Hudson in 2016).

So, to try to pin all the blame on Boris Johnson, just doesn’t work.

Astonishingly, at the time of its launch Sir Robin was so proud of this partnership and certain of its future success that he told us “even on the most disastrous figures, even if everything goes wrong we still make a profit on this. The risk is really, really minimal.”

It is claimed that the Newham Vision for the stadium was a determination to avoid a post-Olympic “white elephant”. 

The definition of a “white elephant” is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness.

This is exactly what we now have, the only difference is that a wealthy Premiership football club is getting a subsidised use of the stadium and we have been picking up the bill.

We can’t even claim a success in creating stadium related employment for local residents.

When Newham made the initial investment, it was claimed that up to 75% of the jobs created at the Stadium would go to Newham residents. A recent Freedom of Information response tells us that the total number of jobs created at the stadium currently is 1,531. The number of Newham residents employed on full time contracts is 15 out of 70 jobs (21.4%) and the number of Newham residents employed on casual contracts is 469 out of 1,461 jobs (32.1%). Nothing like the promised figure of 75%.

Sir Robin tells us that we can retain our “community benefits” as part of his agreement with Mayor Khan.

We don’t need a stadium to organise community events like the Great Newham Run and a few free tickets to Guns ‘n Roses concerts are a poor return for our £52.2 million.

The regeneration of the Stratford Rail Lands was always based on the Westfield and Lend Lease developments. Not the Olympic Games. The permanent new jobs have come from Westfield and more recently from the new Lend Lease developments. New homes continue to be built on the site. 

The Olympic Games accelerated the delivery of new homes in what we now call the East Village. The games also gave us a great park and world class sporting facilities in the Velodome, the Aquatic Centre and the Copper Box. The Games also focussed attention on Newham and East London generally and we benefitted from new and improved transport links and increased visitor numbers.

Some seek to defend the £52.2 million investment by attributing these regeneration benefits to the stadium, which really is nonsense.

If West Ham United had wanted a new stadium with a 60,000 capacity, they should have been asked to pay the appropriate price. Newham and London tax payers should not be picking up any of the bill. 

Over the years Sir Robin has been a regular recipient of hospitality at West Ham matches, perhaps he can convey that message back to Messrs Gold and Sullivan and Baroness Brady when he next attends a West Ham home game.

Sir Robin claims that the stadium deal unlocked the Boleyn site and enabled the Council to buy 211 of the new homes being developed at that location. The Council could have used its money to buy a similar number of new homes on one of the many other sites being developed in the borough. 

If Sir Robin had really been interested in providing affordable homes for Newham residents, he could of course have spent the £52.5million on the Carpenters estate in Stratford bringing the empty homes there back into use for social housing and helping Newham to reduce its growing list of homeless people.

There remains one thing I don’t quite understand. Why was it ever Newham’s responsibility to sort out the future of the Olympic Stadium?

I expect in the months running up to the election in May, more and more of our voters will be asking that question when we knock on their doors asking for their votes. Newham borrowed the money to invest in the stadium, so our Council taxpayers will be paying this particular bill for years to come.

How exactly can we reassure them that the Labour Party can be trusted with their money?

Yours in frustration,

Conor McAuley