35% Campaign update – Lendlease’s final plot for Elephant Park – offices, not homes


Sep 17, 2021 01:00 am

Southwark to change rules to allow office block on former Heygate estate.Southwark Council is set to change its planning rules to enable developer Lendlease to build an office block on the site of the former Heygate estate. The block would be on the final development plot of Elephant Park, Plot H1, which is earmarked for housing under Lendlease’s current planning consent. Lendlease has now applied to replace this consent with an entirely new one, to build an office block, not housing.Southwark is also ready to change the New Southwark Plan (NSP) to pave Lendlease’s way to a successful approval of the application. The change will allow an increase in the office floorspace on Elephant Park, from the maximum of 5,000 sqm that Lendlease is presently allowed, to the 49,565 sqm it is proposing in its new planning application. Southwark has said ‘an office development on this plot is broadly supported’ in the ‘Conclusion’ of pre-application discussions with Lendlease.Late changes to the New Southwark PlanThe change to the NSP, which governs all development throughout the borough, is part of a ‘main modification’ to the Plan. The modification MM7 would allow 60,000 sqm of ‘employment floorspace’ to be built specifically on Elephant Park; at the moment the local plan envisages a maximum of 30,000 sqm of ‘business floorspace’ for the whole Elephant and Castle Opportunity Area.The NSP, including the main modifications, is in the final stages of approval by government inspectors. Comments on all proposed modifications can be made up to a deadline of 24 September 2021.From open space to office spaceA good part of Plot H1 sits on land that was covenanted for use as open space, in perpetuity, when ownership was devolved to Southwark in 1985, on the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC). In 2014 Southwark transferred ownership of the Heygate land, including Plot H1, to Lendlease, removing the covenant in the process.In 2019 Lendlease took advantage of a poorly drafted s106 legal agreement with Southwark to increase the maximum number of homes allowed on Elephant Park by 220 units, to 2,689. Lendlease is using ten plots of land for these homes, instead of the eleven available, leaving itself a spare plot. This is the justification for the new planning application – Lendlease claims that they have fulfilled their housing obligations under the current planning consent, so Plot H1 can be used for an office development, which would create jobs.Lendlease does not say in their new planning application how many homes could be built on Plot H1, if it were used for housing as originally intended, but by making a rough comparison with neighbouring plot H7, a capacity for about 340 homes can be calculated.Lendlease on manoeuvresLendlease’s Plot H1 planning application is the latest of a succession of self-advantageous manoeuvres. As well as increasing the number of homes on the estate and squeezing them into fewer plots, Lendlease has also announced that over 900 of the free-market homes would no longer be for sale, but kept under their ownership, and let to private renters, not sold. Before this, they marketed and sold substantial numbers of homes overseas . This all followed the notorious 2010 Heygate regeneration agreement, which reduced the affordable housing to 25%, from 35%, with a meagre 79 social rented units (later inching up to 100 units).Southwark Council is now poised to give up a prime housing site (in the middle of an opportunity area, on former council estate land) at Lendlease’s behest. Southwark is doing this while embroiled in controversies across the borough about infill development on council estate sites, none of which are anywhere near the size of the plot it is about to give up.Object!Lendlease’s argument that offices will good for employment is entirely self-serving. They did not make this proposal for Plot H1 in 2012, when applying for their first planning permission. Instead, they have tricked their way into a position where they have built more homes than originally consented, on a smaller space, and now want to squeeze in an extra office block for good measure.Southwark Council have aided Lendlease’s application by proposing a ten-fold increase in ‘employment space’ on Elephant Park, in the New Southwark Plan – a huge uplift, introduced to boost the chances of an office-space application being approved.There has been much speculation about whether Southwark’s recent change of leadership has resulted in a change of direction for the Council.This is the planning committee’s chance to prove that the Council won’t roll over to Lendlease indefinitely. The committee must stop this cynical attempt to manipulate planning policy to Lendlease’s advantage and reject this planning application.Once this is done, Southwark should start a sensible discussion on what is to be done with this prime site, with the focus on the local community’s real needs, including affordable housing, with all the amenities and open surroundings needed to make life liveable in London.470 comments and objections have been made to this application.If you would like to add your objection, you can do so here.You can use this model objection text or view our full letter of objection here.
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35% Campaign

35% Campaign – Elephant Park – planning committee misled?

Elephant Park – planning committee misled?

Mar 01, 2020 12:00 am

Lendlease fails to declare public funding for affordable housing -Developer Lendlease failed to disclose at Last week’s planning committee meeting that it was in receipt of public funding, which could have increased the amount of affordable housing at Elephant Park (aka the Heygate estate regeneration).

The meeting was called because of the large number of objections to the final phase (H7 MP5) and the lack of additional affordable housing. We explained in our previous blog how Lendlease have met their 25% affordable housing requirement, while increasing the total number of homes, but without increasing the number of affordable homes or proportion of social rent (3%).

One of the objections, from the 35% Campaign, was that “There appears to have been no effort to take advantage of any public funding”. Southwark responded by saying: “There is no obligation on Lendlease to seek public funds.” (para 282, 283 of the officer’s report)

The planning committee followed this up in their cross examination of Lendlease, who were asked directly by Cllr King whether they had considered applying for grant funding:

 See video clip of committee meeting on youtube here.

In a lengthy reply, Lendlease did not disclose that the Mayor had in fact committed to fund Elephant Park, back in September 2018.

Elephant Park is the very first entry on a list of estate regeneration projects on the Mayor’s website, which have had funding approved since July 2018.

This gives rise to a number of questions:

  1. Why did Lendlease not say that they had received funding when the question was asked?
  2. Why were the committee members not told that Lendlease has received funding in the committee report?
  3. How much money has Lendlease received from the Mayor?
  4. Why has the affordable housing offer not been improved?

We suspect that the answer to this lies in the murky world of viability; Lendlease insisted in 2013 that only 9.4% of the new homes could be viably provided as affordable.

They repeated this at the planning committee meeting last week and would no doubt argue that any money they have received from the Mayor has gone to bridging the gap between what is viable and the 25% being delivered.

Whatever the merits of this argument (and we think it has none) it still leaves open the question of why Lendlease and the officers report did not disclose the grant funding to members.

There is a similarity here to the ongoing dispute about affordable housing in the shopping centre development. Developer Delancey claims that the £11.24m it is also receiving from the Mayor is being used to increase the amount of social rented housing. We showed previously how it was going to Delancey’s bottom line:

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35% Campaign update – Elephant Park – final phase, final windfall for Lendlease

Elephant Park – final phase, final windfall for Lendlease

Feb 21, 2020 12:00 am

Last phase of Heygate regeneration set for approval with increase in number of homes but no increase in affordable. -We blogged last year about the final phase (MP5 H7) of the Heygate regeneration.

Lendlease’s application for 424 new homes (15 social rent) in this final phase is now set to be approved by the Council’s planning committee on Monday.

If approved without a viability review it will seal an increase in the number of new homes beyond that approved by Southwark’s planning committee back in 2013, without any increase in the number of affordable homes. This will result in a total of 2,689 homes (220 more than approved in 2013) of which 92 will be social rent.

 Extract from the 2013 Outline application Committee report

This windfall gives Lendlease the revenue of 220 extra homes that were not included in the original viability assessment of the scheme, which was based on 2,469 units. This allowed Lendlease to build 25% instead of 35% affordable housing and to reduce the required amount of social rented homes to next to nothing. Taking account of the 220 extra homes could have improved both the viability of the whole scheme and the affordable housing offer.

Reviewing viability

We noted in our previous blog that Southwark has neglected to carry out any viability review. Monday’s planning committee report reiterates this, stating: “The council has no mechanism to insist on a viability review” (para 129)

However, this looks to be contradicted by the terms of the Regeneration Agreement between Southwark and Lendlease, which provides a mechanism for the affordable housing mix to be reviewed on an annual basis.

If these annual reviews had been taking place it should have been reflected in higher levels of social rented housing. The fact that the tenure mix hasn’t changed suggests that they haven’t.

Grant Funding

We also noted in our previous blogpost that the 2013 planning committee anticipated that the regeneration could benefit from public funding if it became available.

 Extract from the 2013 Outline application Committee report

This was in line with the Regeneration Agreement, which also obliged the parties to seek grant funding:

Such funding has been available since 2016 when Sadiq Khan announced a £4.6bn funding programme, but despite the 2013 planning committee’s intention and the Regeneration Agreement’s obligation, Lendlease has made no funding application.

Also, despite this clear contractual obligation, Southwark nonetheless states in Monday’s committee report for the final phase“There is no obligation on Lendlease to seek public funds.” (para 283)

Given the clear obligation on Lendlease to seek grant funding, we say that until Lendlease does so Southwark should reject this final phase application.

Southwark should also reject the application unless Lendlease commits to a viability review. There are a number of reasons why this is necessary. Not only was the original viability assessment based on fewer homes than the number actually being built, but also the free-market homes are being sold for twice Lendlease’s viability assessment estimate.

Another significant change to viability since the original assessment has been Lendlease’s recent decision to let, rather than sell homes in the later phases of the scheme.

Monday’s planning committee should also take account of Policy 3.12 of the Mayor’s London Plan, which says that “The maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing should be sought .. having regard to .. individual circumstances including development viability, {and} the availability of public subsidy.

The Elephant Park development lost Southwark 1,200 council homes. This final phase is Southwark Council’s last chance to (partially) redeem itself by insisting Lendlease abides by its obligations, reviews the viability of the scheme and applies for grant funding.

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