Southwark Council recently refused planning permission to a large development just off the Old Kent Rd, by Burgess Park, after a campaign by local residents, who objected to its size and impact on the park.
Now the developer is appealing against that decision and there will be a hearing before a government Inspector in August. Local residents have started a CrowdJustice appeal to get legal representation at the hearing and make sure that their voice is heard. The appeal is supported by Southwark Law Centre, Wells Way TRA, Friends of Burgess Park, Vital OKR and the Camberwell Society.
The development, known as Camberwell Union, offers 35% affordable housing, but should be offering 50%, because it would be on industrial land. Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised 50% affordable housing on such sites in his new London Plan.
Copyright © 2019 Elephant Amenity Network, All rights reserved.
Malt Street – the next big Old Kent Road development
Jun 01, 2019 12:00 am
Big questions for Berkeley Homes still unanswered –
Southwark’s planning committee is to consider yet another major Old Kent Rd development on Monday, the fourth so far, after Ruby Triangle, Cantium Retail park and Southernwood Retail Park. Southernwood was unanimously approved by Southwark’s planning committee just last week, despite objections, including doubts about whether it that it will deliver the maximum reaonable amount of affordable housing. Serious concerns raised about the impact of the scheme on the proposed Bakerloo Line Extension (BLE), were allayed by a last minute letter to the Council from Transport for London (TfL).
For Malt St, Berkeley Homes proposes a mixed use development, including 1,300 homes and 7,000 sqm of commercial space, on 1.9 hectares of land behind Asda. It is a ‘hybrid’ application of two parts, a detailed application for 420 homes, and an outline application for 880 homes. The total development comprises 11 blocks, including 39 and 44 storey towers, to be built in three phases, with completion by 2027.
Berkeley Homes are offering 40% affordable housing in total across the whole scheme, with the detailed part of the scheme providing 83 social rented and 48 intermediate units, but leaving the exact number of affordable units provided by the outline part of the scheme to be determined later.
Taking the ‘social’ out of social rent?
As stated in the planning committee report, Berkeley propose 35% affordable housing, of which 25% would be social rent, 10% intermediate, with an additional 5% intermediate, supplied with the help of grant funding. However, the term ‘social rent’ does not appear anywhere throughout Berkeley’s planning application, with the documents eg the viability assessment, using the term ‘affordable rented’ or just ‘rent’ instead.
Even the Mayor’s Stage 1 planning report avoids using the term ‘social rent’ and instead describes the proposed tenure as ‘low-cost rent’ (para 33) . This is yet another affordable housing label, newly introduced by the Mayor’s draft New London Plan, where it is defined to include London Affordable Rent, as well as social rent. The London Tenant’s Federationhas given evidence to the Mayor that there is a 43% difference between LAR and social rent, while the GLA has conceded during the Plan’s public examination that there is a 14% difference between new build LAR and social rent.
The Malt St S106 draft heads of terms document says that the exact tenure of the affordable housing will not be decided until after the application is approved:
We have seen before promises of social rent do no not necessarily guarantee that social rent will be delivered and we are still waiting for the promised audit of affordable and social rented housing, after a damning ombudsman investigation, which found that Southwark had not monitored or enforced the tenure requirements of its s106 affordable housing agreements.
No late stage review
Berkeley Homes’ viability assessment of the Malt St scheme says it will produce a ‘substandard return’ and it is technically unviable with 35% affordable housing (just as the developers of Ruby Triangle, Cantium Retail Park and Southernwood Retail did).
Southwark’s consultant’s agree with this analysis, albeit they calculate that the scheme is slightly less unviable than Berkeley claim. In any event, Berkeley offer 40% affordable housing on the understanding that the viability will be improved by better transport links (ie the Bakerloo Line Extension) and the ongoing regeneraation of the area. There is an important proviso, however – that there will be no late stage review.
This pre-empts any possibility that the amount of affordable housing will be raised to 50%, as required by the draft London Plan for Strategic Industrial land, such as the Malt St site – (the draft London Plan will be fully in force by the time Malt St is completed.)
Applications can avoid a late stage review, if they take the Mayor’s Fast Track Route, by providing, 50% affordable housing, but the Mayor’s planning report makes it clear this is not happening in this case:
“The application does not therefore follow the Fast Track Route with 35% affordable housing (as the threshold level would be 50% in this instance), and it must therefore be considered under the viability tested route.” (paragraph 32)
A 35% Campaign objection on this point is appended to the end of this blogpost.
Viability assessment flaw
An important part of viability assessments is estimating a scheme’s likely revenue. This is done by using ‘comparables’ ie the revenues other similiar schemes have realised. Berkeley Homes commissioned Savills for this task and they estimated an average sales value of completed homes of £776 per square foot.
Extract from the Savills report in Berkeley’s viability assessment (appendix 4a)
In arriving at this figure Savills uses Elphant Park (formerly the Heygate estate) where the sales are currently achieving £1,247 per sqft.
This is double the revenue estimate of £600 per sq ft Savills gave back in 2012, when it was commissioned for exactly the same task by Elephant Park developer Lendlease.
Extract from the Savills report in Lendlease’s viability assessment for Heygate estate redevelopment
The explanation for this big difference lies with the rule that viability assessments are based on current day values. This is a major problem in the viability testing method and is supposed to be mitigated by sensitivity analysis or scenario testing, where various increases in sales values are tested, but these tests are often inadequate. In the Heygate case the District Valuer Service, acting for Southwark, ran just one scenario, with a 5% increase in sales values, when the actual increase has proved to be just over 100%.
In the case of Malt St, Berkeley’s hasn’t done any scenario testing. The Council’s independent review has done some, but only with a 5% increase in sales values. More comprehensive scenario testing should have been undertaken, for a major schemes such as this, likely to take a decade to complete and where values will be affected by such a major variable as the Bakerloo line extension.
In the absence of this the very least the Council should do is secure a late stage review, which should ensure that any great rise in values does not solely benefit the developer’s profit, but is shared with local community, in the form of more affordable housing.
35% Campaign objection to no late stage review
“I am writing on behalf of the 35% Campaign to object to the recommended approval of planning application ref: 17/AP/2773.
The planning committee report for this application refers to the 40% affordable housing offer as exceeding the policy compliant level, stated as 35% (para 167). However, para 22 of the report also notes that the site is ‘designated Strategic Industrial Land (SIL), in the London Plan’; as such, the draft New London Plan requires a higher, 50% level of affordable housing under Policy H6, Para B(3).
The planning committee report gives weight to the draft New London Plan and other emerging policy to justify the release of industrial land for residential and other development (para 145), in the first instance; therefore equal weight should be given to the 50% affordable housing requirement for housing built on such land and 50% affordable housing required.
Without 50% affordable housing the application fails to qualify for the draft London Plan’s Fast Track route under the threshold approach to viability testing. Policy H6 is clear that applications that do not meet the 50% SIL threshold are subject to the viability tested route, which involves a Late Stage Viability review (Para E 2(b)). This is confirmed in the GLA Stage 1 report for the scheme (para 32), which states;
A late stage review should therefore be required if 50% affordable housing is not offered.
For these reasons and in the light of the Stage 1 report, we believe that the planning committee report is wrong when it states that the affordable housing offer ‘exceeds the 35% GLA threshold level’ and ‘re-provides the existing commercial floorspace’ and that therefore there need be no late stage review (para 171). (NB Nothing in Policy H6 says that the 50% threshold for SIL locations can be avoided if existing commercial floorspace is re-provided).
As the application is a large phased development a mid-term review should also be required, according to Policy H6, Para E 2(c).
Southernwood Retail Park
May 27, 2019 12:00 am
Third of big four Old Kent Rd developments goes to committee
A proposal for the development of Southernwood Retail Park is due to be decided at Southwark’s planning committee this Tuesday evening. Developer Glasgow City Council, acting as trustees for its (Strathclyde) Pension Fund, wants permission for a mixed-use development of 725 residential units, with a hotel, cinema, shops, restaurants and offices. The proposed scheme has seven blocks, including a 48-storey tower. The site is currently occupied by Argos and Sports Direct, just opposite Tesco and over the road from Burgess Park.
Southernwood offers, in round figures, 35% affordable housing; 25% of the total housing will be social rent, 10% intermediate, in line with the emerging New Southwark Plan’sminimum requirements, giving 219 units.
Viability assessments have become notorious as a way for developers to avoid their affordable housing obligations. Over the past few years housing campaigners and several high profile cases have managed to shed some light on this practice, leading to changes in policy and greater scrutiny of developer’s viability claims.
In Southwark this had meant we are starting to get the 35% affordable housing that we have been denied until now. But while developers are offering 35% affordable housing, they continue to insist that their schemes are unviable. Southernwood Retail Park is a case in point. Here the developer (Glasgow City Council) claims that they will only make 2.24% (£8.4m) profit on Gross Development Value (GDV); Southwark’s consultants beg to differ and say 16.37% (£62.5m) can be made. Both figures fall short of Glasgow CC’s profit target (set by themselves) of 18.84% (£72m), so the development is technically deemed ‘unviable’.
Glasgow CC’s 18.84% target profit exceeds its benchmark return of 10.4% set by its pension fund manager for real estate projects (DTZ), who manage Southernwood on its behalf (See DTZ, pg 97 in Strathclyde Pension Fund’s most recent annual report).
Despite the Southernwood scheme being deemed ‘unviable’, Glasgow CC says that it will deliver 35% affordable housing, comprising 25% social rent and 10% intermediate, in line with minimum local policy requirements. The Council’s planning report accepts the 35% affordable offer, but without addressing the difference in the profit estimates or considering the difference in the profit target and the pension fund’s DTZ target benchmark.
After so many major developments at the Elephant & Castle and elsewhere in Southwarkhave been allowed to flout affordable housing requirements, this can be counted as progress, but leaves the true viability of the Southernwood scheme unresolved. This is important, because as well as all the minimum affordable housing requirements, there is also a general requirement to produce the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing, which obviously cannot be known, unless the real viability position is known. There is also the danger that the development proves to be ‘undeliverable’ and the developer returns to get the promised affordable housing reduced.
The Southernwood scheme joins Ruby Triangle and Cantium Retail Park as an ‘unviable’ scheme that will deliver 35% affordable housing. Unlike Ruby Triangle, but like Cantium Retail Park, no ‘late stage review’ of viability is proposed for Southernwood. This is a comprehensive viability review where developers are required to disclose in detail actual costs and revenue received, to establish the scheme’s real profitability and enable the local authority to ‘claw back’ additional affordable housing, should the profit be greater than anticipated. Given the site’s position alongside the likely site of a new tube station should the Bakerloo line extension be built, this looks like a serious omission.
Affordable housing – 35%, 40% or 50%?
Two other features in the Southernwood application stand out – the first is that the applicant, Glasgow City Council, is reluctant to take advantage of any public funding, such as that available from the Mayor of London, which could raise the affordable housing to at least 40%, giving another 30 or so affordable homes. All schemes are expected to consider this, to maximise affordable housing, under the Mayor’s Housing policy. Glasgow CC’s surprising explanation for not applying for public funding is that it claims it will make the scheme less viable. As related in the planning committee report (Para 182,183), this is because the £28,000 per unit grant (for each of the 250 affordable homes) would not make up the full loss in value of converting 5% of the private market homes into affordable homes. It appears, however, that in reaching this conclusion Glasgow CC have used the highest values of the private flats in the 48-storey tower for comparison, rather than the lower-value private flats in the lower blocks, the difference being £600k per unit versus £500k per unit.
Glasgow CC also say that they will not be in time for the current funding round, which requires a start on site before 31st March 2021, notwithstanding that Phase 1 of the scheme would commence in 2021, to be “open and operational by 2022/23” (Para 44); the report simply proposes a condition that this is reconsidered before the scheme is implemented. The second half of the scheme won’t commence until May 2030 and won’t complete until 2033 (See para 57 of planning committee report).
The second feature is that the site is both owned by a local authority and is in an area marked as a Strategic Industrial Location and on both counts should deliver 50% affordable housing, according to the draft New London Plan, which would raise the number of affordable homes to around 360.
Glasgow CC submitted its own legal opinion on this, arguing that the site should not be considered as public land because it would ” penalise the members of the [Pension] Fund simply for having worked as public servants” (see para 173 of planning committee report). There can be no dispute that the land is owned by Glasgow City Council, on behalf of its pension fund, as land Registry deeds show; nonetheless Southwark and the Greater London Authority (GLA) have accepted Glasgow CC’s argument.
Southwark’s and the Mayor’s decision flies in the face of the Mayor’s planning policy, which has its own specific Guidance Note for determining what constitutes public land – Threshold Approach to Affordable Housing on Public Land (July 2018). This defines it as “Land that is owned or in use by a public sector organisation, or company or organisation in public ownership” (para 9). Anticipating disputes on the definition, the note goes on to say that these “will be determined with reference to the Public Sector Classifications Guide (PSCG) published by the Office for National Statistics“ and this guide lists Local Government Pension Funds as a public sector body, just as Glasgow CC is a public sector body.
Notwithstanding this Southwark argues in the legal advice appended to the planning committee report that imposing the higher 50% affordable housing “would reduce the capital value of the site and therefore the Fund’s ability to pay pensions to retired workers”and that “It would be unfair on the retired workers if their pension expectation might possibly be impacted..”
It might well be ‘unfair’ to pensioners if this happened, but it would also be ‘unfair’ to those who need affordable housing if it is not delivered when required by policy. It is also unfair on planning committee members who are recommended to approve this scheme without the detailed policy requirements or the alleged ‘impact’ on pensions having been properly explained in the planning report.
As unedifying as it would be to see two local authorities fight over their respective shares of a development’s profit, one on behalf of pensioners, the other, on behalf of those who need affordable housing, Southwark and the GLA’s responsibility in this situation is to vigorously represent the interests of those in housing need and it has not done so, by giving way so easily.
TfL gives scheme (many) red lights
There also appears to be major issues, to say the least, with Transport for London (TfL), particularly around the impact of the development on plans for the proposed Bakerloo Line Extension (BLE). In its latest communication of barely a month ago, in which TfL urges Southwark not to approve the application, except for “the rear portion of the site”, until the Bakerloo Line Extension (BLE) is complete, for fear that it will be compromised.
Extract from TFL’s Objection to the scheme
TfL make the damning accusation that Southwark has ‘no joined-up thinking’, which must sting after several years of consultation and planning for the yet-to-be adopted Old Kent Rd Area Action Plan (AAP) and Opportunity Area.
TfL examine eight aspects of the scheme for policy compliance – Strategic approach, Healthy Streets, Transport Capacity, Transport Assessment, Cycling, Car Parking, Deliveries, Funding – and gives the red light to six (meaning ‘Major changes/redesign required’), with amber for two, including ‘Funding’ (‘Further work required’)’. One of the more radical amendments TfL require for policy compliance is to move the proposed hotel, currently to face onto the Old Kent Rd, but overall TfL consider that it is ‘unlikely that the significant design changes and stringent management measures necessary to make the existing proposals workable can be made to address the issues’ raised.
The planning committee report addresses TfL’s objections at length, over 14 pages (Para 524 – 602). While it acknowledges the critical importance of the BLE to the success of the whole Opportunity Area, much of the remedy the report proposes depend on future agreements between all parties, including rival developers Tesco/Invesco, to be secured by s106 and other legal conditions after consent is granted, when the common-sense response is surely to resolve these problems before consent is given.
Southernwood provides the peculiar spectacle of one public authority building homes on land owned by another, but refusing to apply for public funding, because that would make an ‘unviable’ development more unviable, added to which it is promising to provide affordable housing the figures say the scheme cannot provide.
As noted above, Ruby Triangle and Cantium Retail Park were also both declared technically non-viable and depend upon the rise in land values that the Bakerloo Extension will bring, so should the problems feared by TfL occur, they may well have consequences for their promises of affordable housing too.
The TfL objections to Southernwood also adds weight to the argument that the whole Opportunity Area project is developer-driven, rather than plan-led and that the approval of major developments, such as Southernwood in advance of the adoption of the Area Action Plan is premature and rendering it redundant. Southwark should not be granting permission for a scheme in such a key location beforehand, especially when it is not due complete until 2033 and no late stage viability review is proposed.