Upcoming consultations

There are a few important issues for discussion at the moment.  Westminster City Council is considering its policies for Community Infrastructure Levy, HS2 consultations are commencing with a meeting this week for local organisations.  There is also a very important consultation our regarding planning obligations.  Sometimes called S106, this is the levy that the council; takes from developers of private residential in order to fund social housing.

The consultation can be found here:

The draft response is here:

Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum

Observations on:

Draft Supplementary Planning Document: The Use of planning Obligations and Other planning Mechanisms

These observations are a response to the invitation to comment on the draft SPD by 25 September, 2015. They follow the order of the sections of the document.

In general, we welcome the intention to combine, clarify and explain WCC’s revised policy on section 106 agreements and CIL.

Sections 1-4: No comments

Section 5: Affordable Housing and Mixed-use Development

5.1 Affordable Housing

We strongly support the Council’s intention to secure affordable housing through S.106 agreements but have a number of observations to make regarding current practice in the Fitzrovia area:

WCC does not make full use of its current powers and policies and very rarely secures more than 20% affordable housing even on major development sites. Recent examples include:

site Date approved Total housing units Affordable Comments

 

 

Fitzroy Place/Middlesex Hospital site, W1

 

02.02.12

 

291

 

17.4%

 

All on site. +£2m to AHF

 

Post Office sorting office, 35-50 Rathbone Place, W1

 

15.10.13

 

162

 

20 affordable on site – 18 off site = 17.1%

 

20  affordable 1 bed units to be sold at discount to people on waiting list. + contribution to AHF

 

25-33 Berners Street, W1

 

14.10.14

 

None

 

none

£2m to AHF in lieu of residential in development on site
 

 

       

 

Indeed, according to GLA figures WCC has consistently underperformed in relation to all other London boroughs except Redbridge and the City of London. See London Plan Annual Monitoring Report 11 2013-14, page 23:

http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Annual%20Monitoring%20Report%2011.pdf

This shows that in 2013-14 WCC only achieved 13% affordable housing as a percentage of total net conventional supply compared with 26% in Wandsworth and 37% in Camden.

WCC increasingly allows developers to provide affordable housing off-site or to make payments to the Affordable Housing Fund (AHF). It is not at all clear how monies in the AHF are used and where they are spent. There is very little evidence of any new affordable housing in Fitzrovia West or in the W1 area.

5.1.4:  Bearing in mind the lack of provision of affordable housing in the past we object to the way the proposed tariff is expressed on page 29. In our view these should be expressed as a percentage of units in the development and not in floorspace, and they should be minimum figures, not maximum. For example, the maximum floorspace proportion required for 10-11 units is 80 sq.m. This would be much better expressed as 1 unit and then be subject to GLA minimum floorspace standards.

The maximum percentage required has never been achieved so is a hypothetical issue but in our view we suggest an overall minimum target for Fitzrovia West of 30% (i.e. both inside and outside CAZ. 35% is desirable but probably unattainable.

Tables 2 and 3 (p.30) have no explanation to the sentences relation to ‘….land having a low existing use value’. How is this measured, where is it defined?

Payment in lieu (p.32): This should only be accepted as an absolute last priority and a premium of, say, 25% should be added to discourage developers seeking this alternative. The reasons for this is that the London Plan and WCC’s Plan argue for the creation of inclusive, mixed communities and we support the creation of sustainable and well designed  integrated, mixed housing, mixed use developments. Developers will always argue for keeping low value uses off high value West End sites which in the longer term simply creates super-prime housing ghettos occupied by very few ‘real’ residents.

We strongly opposed the approach adopted by WCC to a council-owned site at 87-125 Cleveland Street, where a very inferior development was approved with only 15% affordable housing but a payment of £4.6m to the Council’s Affordable Housing Fund.

In another recent application at 40-42 Newman Street, W1 (15/07438/FULL) for the conversion of offices to 12 residential units, a confidential affordability statement is referred to arguing that the provision of the required affordable units is not viable. This is becoming common practice in several recent developments.

At least £8m has been deposited in the AHF from this and other developments listed above. We would like to know how much of this will be spent in Fitzrovia or W1? We suggest a statement is published annually showing how the AHF has been spent and in which wards.

 

5.2 Mixed Use Policy

We consider that new development in Fitzrovia should reflect the scale, mix and design quality of the existing urban fabric. This mix is one of the most conspicuous characteristics of the area. We are aware that many landowners and developers seek as few uses as possible on a site in the belief that this enhances land values.

We strongly support the policy set out in 5.2.3 where increases in commercial floorspace of 200 sq.m. or more are matched by an equivalent amount of residential or other approved uses. As argued above, this is not always enforced or required and there is a danger that payments in lieu will be widely accepted.

While targets are set for affordable housing there must be a good case for also having a maximum target for super-prime housing (valued at >£2m). We suggest this should constitute no more that 15% of units in any one development.

Sections 6-15 No comments

 

Section 17: Negotiating Planning Obligations: Assessing Viability, Procedures and Management

We have major reservations about the secrecy and processes associated with the submission of viability statements. These are never revealed to the public, although are essential in understanding the design and mix of uses in a particular proposal. Observations in the planning profession generally suggest that they are often excessively cautious and often written to support a particular pre-determined development proposal. It appears that the Council rarely questions these statements and if consultants are retained to examine them, they can often be the same consultants who advise other developers.

In our view all viability statements should be made public and consulted on as part of the planning application with the onus falling on the developer to explain why certain sections are commercially sensitive and thus should be redacted.

WCC should also investigate profit-sharing arrangements so that any uplift in residential values on completion of the development over and above those set out in the viability statement, is shared between the Council and the developer.

Appendix 1: Draft Regulations on CIL

Further information is needed on how CIL monies will be allocated to neighbourhood forums before and after a neighbourhood plan is made and how the forums will be consulted about the use of these resources.

 

In summary:

  • We support the intention to create genuinely mixed developments containing the full range of housing particularly on major sites and as underpinned by S106 and CIL payments;

 

  • Figures stated for the provision of affordable housing should be treated as a minimum for negotiation purposes and should be expressed as a percentage of the total rather than in sq.m;

 

  • There should be a single target of a minimum of 30% affordable housing in the Fitzrovia West Forum area and in the CAZ;

 

  • Super-prime residential units should be restricted to no more than 15% of any one development;

 

  • Payments in lieu should be strongly discouraged except for overriding reasons (e.g. legal constraints)and should carry an additional premium of 25%;

 

  • WCC should publish an annual report to show how and where the AHF is generated and spent;

 

  • Viability statements should be publicised as part of planning applications;

 

  • WCC should investigate the potential for negotiating profit-sharing arrangements based on value uplift after completion of a development over and above that stated in the viability statement.

 

September 2015

 

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