Fear over planning law reforms

By Rob Virtue on September 14, 2012 11:45 AM |

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Government plans that could temporarily halt developments with a mix of social classes have been condemned by experts and politicians in east London.

Last week's announcement proposes to allow developers to appeal against a council's affordable housing requirements if they make schemes unviable.

The Government hopes the proposal, due to go to consultation, will kick start 75,000 stalled schemes.

However, critics have rounded on the plan, particularly in east London boroughs where waiting lists for social housing easily run into five figures. They say lists could get longer while developments in the area could exclude lower paid workers.

Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich Nick Raynsford said: "Look at Greenwich Millennium Village and the mixed communities there. There's a range of people. Some well-off with jobs at Canary Wharf and others with modest incomes, all in the same community with no differential in quality of homes.

"That's all put at risk if it's not possible for councils to determine their own percentage."

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Mr Raynsford, a former housing minister, accused the Government of poor judgment. He cited recent huge rises in profits for the UK's major housebuilders as evidence these firms were still making money.

He said it was down to councils to take a stand against the Government's proposal by rejecting schemes that do not have a decent quota of affordable housing.

"If sensible councils assess the viability of the schemes and see the mix of private, affordable and social as not good enough then they should reject them," he said. "It would then go to the planning inspectorate which would do its own tests and there would be a sound appraisal.

"This all takes time and the last thing developers want to do is have lengthy appeals. My hope is that councils will be robust."

The Isle of Dogs, in particular, could be affected by the Government proposal. One developments at Asda in Crossharbour was recently rejected after falling short on affordable housing levels.

Blackwall and Cubitt Town Conservative councillor Peter Golds has long campaigned for such developments to be halted until health and education resources catch up.

He said he hoped the proposals, which also include a relaxation in section 106 contributions that developers pay for social infrastructure, would not be allowed for the Island.

"I don't believe the Government or the planning inspectorate will allow developments that are not sustainable," he said. "As well as Asda we've got Skylines coming, which has 200 homes, now an application for the Audi site at Marsh Wall which is huge - then there's City Pride and Island Point, while we have no school provisions and no new medical facilities.

"The Government has to look at this and I will be writing to the minister."

As for the principle of relaxing guidelines on the level of social housing, he said: "I believe in a housing mix. Research from China to California and back has shown the best housing development is one representative of the area."

At Newham's Anchor House, which gives sheltered accommodation to London's homeless, chief executive Keith Fernett sees the need for more social housing first-hand.

He believes the Government's proposal is short sighted.

"The housing crisis in London is so great any housing is to be welcomed but this doesn't cater for the bottom 25 per cent of society," he said. "Where do the people in shops or those who clean the streets go who cannot afford the homes? That's why there is an explosion of homelessness."

He said Newham currently had 35,000 people on the waiting list for a council house with an average wait of around seven years.

"In fairness, it will bring sites into play that might have been uneconomical beforehand. If they can sell the homes for £400,000 rather than rent at a £200,000 value it will make great economic sense to them. It will encourage more housing - but for who?"

The Government, meanwhile, says a £300million investment into the affordable housing industry will compensate for the changes.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Some of the proposals are controversial; others have been a long time in coming. But along with our housing strategy, they provide a comprehensive plan to unleash one of the biggest homebuilding programmes this country has seen in a generation."

1 Comments

mr pan said:

Never ever ever buy or rent in a development that has social housing as part of it. I did, constant police raids, for disorder and drugs, noise nasty attitude, curry smell, ladies of the night. This is tower hamlets council trying to increase its voters.

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