Latest newsKeeping up to date with the latest news on estate regeneration in London.
February 2021 Bulletin
In our last roundup we reported on a number of planning applications submitted in the run up to Christmas. We also reported on the Mayor’s recent announcement that his next round of grant funding will no longer fund replacement homes in estate demolitions. The current pace of planning application submissions may suggest that schemes are being hurried through before the change in grant funding, which requires a start on site before the end of March next year.
The New Year has seen yet another major application submitted, this time for the demolition of Ealing’s High Lane estate.
The application submitted by Ealing’s development partner Rydon proposes demolition of all 264 homes on the High Lane estate and replacement with 505 homes, of which just 142 social rent.
The planning application’s supporting documents say that these will be let as council homes, but they will incur a ‘new build supplement’ of £20pw above the Council’s current social rent levels.
The application also proposes 75 homes at London Affordable Rent and 10 shared equity homes (for the estate’s leaseholders) and 278 private market homes.
We note that the proposed tenure mix is different from the tenure mix presented in Ealing’s formal Landlord Offer to residents at the time of the ballot, with an extra 44 homes proposed in total, most of which (36) are private sale units.
This raises a question about the integrity of the Mayor’s ballot requirement. The Mayor’s policy on ballots is clear that he may terminate funding for schemes, which have deviated from the original tenure mix that residents were balloted on (see para 8.7.3). It remains to be seen whether the Mayor will pick this up or take any action.
Another point worth noting is that the application proposes just 10 shared equity homes when there are 51 leaseholders on the estate. Perhaps the reason for expecting such a low take up is that Ealing’s shared equity offer to leaseholders requires them to invest their personal savings and take out a mortgage if they want to take up the Council’s shared-equity offer (see para 2.2). This was deemed unlawful by the Secretary of State at the 2015 Aylesbury estate CPO inquiry and required Southwark to amend its policy.
As with the estate demolition applications submitted before Christmas, this application fails to comply with the Mayor’s requirement to explore alternatives to demolition. It is therefore impossible to know whether the £23M that Ealing Council is spending on the scheme would be better spent on refurbishment - (see para 3.4.7 of this Council report for estimated scheme costs).
Rydon has also failed to publish its viability assessment for the application so it is impossible to know whether the maximum amount of affordable housing is being provided. Since 2018, making viability assessments public has been another one of the Mayor’s policy requirements which is being routinely ignored by developers and local authorities.
Geoffrey Close estate - Mayor’s report published
Last month, the Mayor published his stage 1 planning report for Riverside Housing Association’s demolition of Lambeth’s Geoffrey Close estate. Riverside applied to demolish the estate’s 134 homes in November last year and replace them with 441 homes of which just 135 social rent.
The Mayor’s report is critical of Riverside’s proposal to gate the entire development (para 39) and its failure to re-provide the ball court (para 43). It also criticises the uplift of just one social rented home, despite a near fourfold increase in the total number of homes - “It is disappointing that, given the significant uplift in housing across the site, the uplift in affordable housing is just one unit.” (para 49)
The report also takes issue with Riverside’s failure to consider alternatives to demolition (para 31) and has requested more information to be submitted, but it is otherwise silent on the application’s failure to meet the Mayor’s key policy requirement of min 50% affordable housing, which applies to all estate redevelopments.
Interestingly, the report does raise the issue that residents were balloted on a different tenure mix to that now being proposed (para 30).
The tenure mix in Riverside’s Landlord Offer to residents at the time of the ballot was as follows:
But the tenure mix now proposed in its planning application includes an extra 43 homes in total, while reducing the number of social rented habitable rooms by 44 to 431 and increasing the number of market sale habitable rooms by 72 to 781.
While it is good to see the Mayor’s planning report pick this up, it is disappointing to see that the Mayor proposes to take no action. The Mayor has provisionally granted £10M funding to this scheme. He ought to be using this leverage to ensure it complies with his basic policy requirements, not just on honouring ballot promises and affordable housing requirements, but also on the more fundamental question of whether this estate needs to be demolished in the first place.
You can view the Mayor’s report here, the full planning application documents (except the financial viability assessment which hasn’t been published) on Lambeth’s planning portal here and our web page about the Geoffrey Close estate here.
Grahame Park estate - racking up the rents
An FOI request has revealed that housing association Notting Hill Genesis charged higher rents than it was supposed to for replacement social housing on Barnet’s Grahame Park estate - in breach of both funding conditions and the planning permission.
A compliance audit by the GLA found that on first let, Notting Hill had charged nearly £20 per week more than the Mayor’s permitted benchmark levels for London Affordable Rent.
It is disappointing that while the GLA audit considers this a ‘high breach’ of funding conditions, it fails to impose any kind of penalty. Unless RSLs face consequences it is only natural that they will seek to maximise revenue in such ways, especially given the growing number of ‘for profit’ providers.
It is also disappointing to see the audit make no mention of the fact that the planning permission envisaged the tenure of these homes to be social rent, which is even lower than the Mayor’s London Affordable Rent benchmark levels.
This is because the scope of the audit is limited only to verifying that rents are in line with grant funding conditions, not the tenure requirements of any planning permission. It’s also disappointing to note that the Mayor’s audit is only concerned with rent levels on the first letting. It appears that with subsequent lets RSLs are free to charge whatever rent levels they see fit.
Details of the planning consent for the phase in question are available on Barnet’s planning portal here and details of the Mayor’s annual compliance audit are available on the GLA website here. You can also read more about the redevelopment of the Grahame Park estate on our web page here.
Sian Berry report
London Assembly member Sian Berry has published a report showing that a staggering 6,748 council and housing association homes have been lost to estate demolition since 2003.
The report is based on an analysis of the GLA’s London Development Database and gives a breakdown of the figures by borough. In addition, it shows that another 6,791 homes are due to be demolished within the current pipeline.
The pace of London’s estate demolitions is clearly not sustainable. Last week the Retrofirst campaign published a letter in the Times newspaper calling on the government to stop ignoring ‘our wasteful addiction to demolition and rebuilding’.
The letter was signed by big names including Thomas Heatherwick and Norman Foster and calls on the government to adopt the campaign’s three recommendations – cutting VAT on refurbishment to 5 per cent or less; amending planning guidance and the Building Regs to promote reuse of existing buildings; and insisting all publicly funded projects look to retrofit solutions first.
Our research with the Engineering Exchange at UCL shows that refurbishment of council estates is the best option when environmental and social factors are properly taken into account. They have produced a series of factsheets, videos and a peer-reviewed report, which you can view on our web page here.
Estate Watch Zoom meeting
Yesterday’s Estate Watch zoom meeting was well attended, with representatives from around a dozen estates under threat sharing their experiences and a guest presentation by UCL’s Pablo Sendra, who talked about his work with residents on the South Kilburn and Alton estates to create alternative community-led plans.
Pablo is the co-author of the book ‘Community-Led Regeneration - a Toolkit for Residents and Planners’ which can be downloaded for free here.
The date of the next Zoom meeting is yet to be confirmed. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to request attendance and further details.
NB. Estate Watch meetings are exclusively for tenants and leaseholders of estates that are under threat of demolition, have managed to stave off demolition or whose estates are currently being demolished.