“Mayor refuses plans with ‘unacceptable’ levels of affordable housing”

Of course it’s not in the Tory South West but in Labour London!

“City Hall’s new viability experts scrutinise affordable housing offer

Stance signals Sadiq’s firm approach on affordable housing

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, today rejected plans which would have lowered the proportion of affordable housing on the site of the former New Scotland Yard building, as his tougher approach to tackling the capital’s housing crisis starts to take effect.

The site at 8-10 Broadway in Westminster was sold by the previous Mayor who then allowed planning permission to be granted for a development offering a £10m payment and only 10 affordable homes – just four per cent of all units – on 27 April 2016, days before the Mayoral election. The site was home to the Met Police for half a century until the force relocated earlier this year.

The developer, BL Developments, then sought to increase the total number of homes by 27, from 268 to 295, with no increase in the number of affordable units or payment in lieu, meaning the level of affordable housing fell further still to only three per cent.

Shortly after becoming Mayor, Sadiq instructed City Hall’s planners to recruit a team of viability experts to scrutinise the level of affordable housing in all planning applications referred to him. The first time City Hall has had this in house expertise. Scrutiny of the application to increase the number of homes at 8-10 Broadway found its offer of no extra affordable homes nor any payment in lieu would mean it failed to deliver the maximum amount of affordable housing viable.

Sadiq’s decision comes just a few weeks after he strongly criticised Wandsworth Council for allowing the developers of Battersea Power Station to slash the amount of affordable housing by 40 per cent, from 636 homes to just 386 – or only nine per cent of the 4,239 homes across the scheme. The Mayor had no formal power to intervene under current planning regulations, but wrote to the Council to object to the decision in the strongest terms.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “A shortage of affordable homes is at the heart of the housing crisis in our city. The scheme put forward for this site is simply unacceptable: it fails to provide the maximum amount of affordable housing that could be delivered on this landmark site, and follows a previous application in which the affordable housing provision agreed by the previous Mayor was already appallingly low. It beggars belief that the initial application was approved under the previous Mayor with a paltry four per cent affordable housing, just days before the Mayoral election.

“This is a site which has only recently been transferred from public ownership and sits within one of the most expensive areas of the country. Having carefully considered the evidence available to me, I have decided to refuse permission for this amended application. …”


“Nimbys risk denying my generation an affordable home” – and gushing praise for Cranbrook

Gushing praise for Cranbrook – by someone who appears never to have lived there and seems to have relocated from Devon to London.

It reads to Owl to read like a (not-very-good) essay submitted for the digital journalism course the author has gone to London to study, rather than a well-researched article. Not a quality piece of Guardian journalism or a persuasive testament to the town, with quotes from one resident and the town clerk!

I’ve been priced out of my home city, but Cranbrook, a new town in Devon with cheaper housing, faces prejudice that could deter newcomers

You’ll be easily forgiven if you haven’t heard of Cranbrook, because five years ago this east Devon town was the fields that cornered the historical city of Exeter. Creating this new town has been one of the few attempts to address a national homelessness crisis, now affecting more than 50,000 households across England. Cranbrook is the first new settlement to be developed in Devon since the middle ages.

I grew up in Exeter, watching it blossom from a modest city into a vibrant hub. I’m proud to say that I have come from the liberal bastion of the south-west: it was one of only three constituencies in the region to vote remain, and has long been a Labour stronghold. However, nimbyism has intensified over fears around an “invasion of outsiders”, and of local services becoming overburdened. Cranbrook has felt the brunt of this, with locals demanding that more housing is built – but “not in my backyard”.

The new town has even been branded as a magnet for unruly northerners and the crime capital of the south-west, renamed by some as “Crimebrook”, even though this is not borne out by police statistics. I remember such hostility circulating even before the first brick had been laid. Listeners to The Archers will be all too familiar with this depressing scenario: one current storyline includes growing opposition in Ambridge against the Bridge Farm housing development. Only Emma and Ed Grundy are in favour, it seems. How else can they hope to get a step on the housing ladder?

These nimbys, in real life, deepen the sense of otherness towards not only outsiders, but also to locals like myself who have been priced out of Exeter. The first phase of Cranbrook consisted of 1,120 homes, 40% of which were for social and affordable housing. Of the social housing available, 65% went to applicants with a local connection to east Devon, the other 35% going to local people in Exeter. The town has also received a £20m government investment, which has increased the development of social houses to 500 a year, accelerating Cranbrook’s ambition of expanding to 8,000 homes within the next decade or so.

Drawn to its location and lower house prices, Jacqui Issacs relocated her family to Cranbrook from Oxfordshire three years ago. “I find a much better sense of community here than I ever did in an established village,” she says. A report released earlier this year by the Devon & Cornwall police on the top crime hotspots within the county placed two of Exeter’s streets third and fourth, with one of Cranbrook’s streets ranked seventh. Issacs remarks: “I have never lived somewhere with so much within walking distance – the shops, the country park, pub and so on.”

Unlike the feudal Disneyland of Prince Charles’s Poundbury in nearby Dorset, Cranbrook has no experimental aesthetic. Nimbys see the town as soulless, but it just needs to be lived in a bit more: Issacs is looking forward to “having our own high street one day”. As the town clerk, Janine Gardner, says, Cranbrook is “not to be seen merely as an extension of the nearby Exeter”. The 3,000 Cranbrook residents already have their own doctors, schools, shops and leisure centre. And the town is uniquely youthful, with a high percentage of 24 to 35-year-olds, who can propel such developments.

I now live in the multicultural mecca of London, and feel that Cranbrook could provide a much-needed point of diversity if given the chance. While it is important for the town to build valuable bridges with Exeter, outsiders should be welcomed as enhancing the existing cultural fabric, not unpicking it.

With average house prices almost seven times people’s incomes, becoming a homeowner, especially for people of my generation, is increasingly a fantasy, even in Devon. Cranbrook is an opportunity not only to find a house, but also for us to make a home.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Cranbrook has only just put down its foundations: the nimbys just need to give it the time to build itself up.

• Jessica Cole, 23, an English graduate, will study digital journalism at City University”


“Coastal communities amongst most deprived in UK, says think-tank”

“Britain’s coastal communities rank among the worst performers for earnings, employment, health, education and a range of other economic and social indicators.

That is the message from the Living on the Edge report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank, which found economic output per capita was 23% lower in coastal communities compared with inland local authority areas.

The research took ‘coastal’ to mean anywhere adjacent to the sea, not just traditional holiday resorts.

It said five of the 10 local authorities in Great Britain with the lowest average pay were on the coast: Torbay, North Devon, Gwynedd, Hastings and Torridge.

Five of the 10 areas with the highest unemployment rate were also coastal: Hartlepool, North Ayrshire, Torridge, Hastings, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Half the 20 council areas with the highest proportions of the population with bad or very bad health were coastal.

SMF chief economist Scott Corfe said: “Many coastal communities are poorly connected to major employment centres, which compounds the difficulties faced by residents in these areas.

“Not only do they lack local job opportunities, but travelling elsewhere for work is also relatively difficult.”

He said the government needed a clear definition of a coastal community and should make more effort to address their economic problems.

Policymakers overlooked some poor performers because they were in the south east and so formed islands of deprivation in generally affluent areas, Corfe added.

Issues in coastal communities rose to prominence with a report from the communities and local government select committee in 2007, when MPs took the unusual step of objecting that the government’s response had been complacent and pressed for further action.

The committee said coastal communities tended to be at an economic disadvantage as the sea reduced the size of their economic hinterland compared with inland towns.

They were also likely to have high proportions of retired people, an exodus of younger people and to be geographically remote from population centres.

Following this report, the Labour government created the Sea Change Fund to regenerate coastal towns, which was succeeded under the Coalition by the Coastal Communities Fund.

Coastal communities minister Jake Berry said yesterday there will be a fifth round of funding for this in 2019-21, to provide at least £40m of assistance.”


“New homes for edge of Exeter approved despite concerns they would overlook neighbouring properties”

Plans for 34 new homes on the edge of a 1,500 home development on the edge of Exeter has been given outline approval.

Councillors unanimously backed the outline plans for the housing scheme on land adjacent to Honiton Road in Clyst Honiton.

East Devon District Council’s development management committee were told that 50 per cent of the homes would be affordable housing and that it would join onto the 1,500 homes that will be delivered as part of the Tithebarn development.

But they raised concerns about some of the details of the plans and requested that when the application returns to them for reserved matters approval, some of the houses would become bungalows as there were concerns about residents of Blackhouse Lane being overlooked by new homes. …”


“How will councils survive the funding abyss?” (Especially if they are in hock to a vanity project!)

Not to mention re-routing roads in Exmouth so developers can make more money!

“No one in Westminster can say how local authorities will be funded after 2020

From struggling northern councils to seemingly prosperous counties, talk of a financial meltdown is getting louder. “It looks as though we’re approaching a cliff edge and no one has any idea how to stop us hurtling over it,” warns Nick Forbes, senior vice-chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) and Labour leader of Newcastle city council. It is a sentiment echoed across the political spectrum.

For once, it is not the dire prospect of failing to reach a Brexit trade deal which is exercising the minds of local politicians, but rather the consequences of an inconclusive general election. The resulting stasis in government has left English councils in financial limbo, staring into an abyss. Bluntly, no one in government can say how authorities will be funded after 2020 when they were all supposed to become self-financing.

Business rates plan raises fears of greater inequality among councils
Former chancellor George Osborne’s big idea was to set councils free of Whitehall – minus multibillion-pound grants – by handing them back business rate revenue raised locally, instead of redistributing it centrally. Since 2013, councils have kept 50%, which yields £26bn nationally. In his 2016 budget Osborne proclaimed that, compared with 2010 when 80% of council funding came through Whitehall, 100% of local government resources would come from councils themselves by 2020 – “raised locally, spent locally, invested locally”. An alluring prospect?

Some fell for it, foolishly believing this would mythically fill a looming £2.6bn social care funding gap, likely by 2020 on LGA calculations. In reality, the consequences were dire. Without a redistribution formula to compensate councils in poorer areas with boarded-up high streets and, consequently, small tax bases yielding low business rates, some authorities would struggle to balance their books – a legal requirement (unlike the NHS or Whitehall departments). Alongside this financial “devolution” came a sting in the tail: a multimillion pound central government revenue support grant, a mainstay of council funding, would be phased out.

But Osborne’s grand design crashed when a local government finance bill, the delivery mechanism, fell in the run-up to the June election. It has not been resurrected. The resulting Queen’s speech omitted to mention the proposed legislation.

Forbes highlights the dilemma. While Newcastle, ostensibly with the highest business tax base in the north-east, raises £154m a year from business rates, he estimates it would still be £16m a year worse off than under the current grant regime. By contrast, Westminster city council would be the ultimate winner – raising £1.8bn annually.

Such disparities were being addressed in a “fair funding review” involving senior civil servants and local government professionals earlier this year alongside discussions on the practicalities of devolving business rates to councils by 2020. But since June there has been a deafening silence in Whitehall. No meetings have taken place. “There was a relatively advanced debate about how the 100% retention [of business rates] would work – and a debate within local government about what kind of criteria is needed for some kind of redistribution mechanism,” says Forbes. “We were gearing up over the next few years to work with government. And all of what has collapsed.”

The result is one almighty mess. Professional bodies, such as the organisation representing senior council finance officers – the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) – are close to despair. English local government is facing the worst of all outcomes: the phasing out of a central revenue support grant without the compensation of a locally held business rate underpinned by a yet-to-be defined redistribution formula, in which rich councils would have to help compensate the poorest.

Having seen their budgets chopped by at least a third since 2010 in the name of austerity, councils are already facing their biggest financial crisis. This is compounded by funding for adult and children’s social care consuming two-thirds of their budgets, with other once-essential services slashed or axed.

Confusion reigns. Already three areas, Greater Manchester, Liverpool city region and London are piloting the full, local 100% business rate regime, buoyed by – presumably interim – government funding to ensure they do not lose out. Other pilots were promised. But there is doubt over whether the full devolution of business rates will ever happen.

If that’s the case, Forbes wonders what the pilot areas are meant to be piloting? For its part, the LGA has one concern: “Where’s the Plan B?” asks Forbes. No one can answer. The clock is ticking.”


Those “poor” developers get richer

“[Redrow’s] Pre-tax profits rose 26 per cent to £315m in the year to the end of June, Redrow said today, against revenues of £1.66bn, up 20 per cent on last year’s figures.

Legal completions – the number of homes bought – rose 15 per cent to 6,416, while its order book rose 14 per cent to £1.1bn. Average selling price increased seven per cent to £309,800.

Meanwhile, its number of outlets increase three per cent to 132, while it added 5,419 plots to its land bank.

So good was its performance, it has raised guidance to turnover of £2.2bn by 2020, while pre-tax profit is expected to hit £430m. Dividend will rise to 32p per share.

Today it hiked its dividend by 70 per cent to 17p. Shares rose 5.8 per cent to 655.9p in the first minutes of trading.”


Brighton Council crowdfunds property renovation

“The Victorians built their public structures to last, but they didn’t lose a lot of sleep over the cost of long-term maintenance.

The Madeira Terraces on the east of Brighton’s seafront were built in the mid-1800s and have formed the backdrop to the National Speed Trials, Brighton Marathon and a host of other public events. But over the years, the cast iron has taken a battering from storms across the channel and has been sorely neglected, leading to their closure in 2013.

The dangerously decrepit terraces are a sad contrast to Brighton’s glitzy attractions, such as the i360 observation tower on the main drag. This vital restoration work is the council’s responsibility, and the final bill could be as much as £30m.

Last year, Brighton and Hove council lost out in a bid for government funding to fix the problem and has now launched a crowdfunding appeal. At the time of writing, it has raised £157,193 of its £430,669 target, including a contribution of £100,000 from the council. The closing date for the campaign is 30 November.

Anyone who pledges £2 or more will become a “friend” of Madeira Terraces and will be eligible to vote on which businesses will move into the first three restored arches. A pledge greater than £5,000 will earn a name on a large plaque on the terraces. The crowdfunding scheme is organised by funding platform Spacehive, which will be paid around £15,000 if the campaign is successful. No money will be taken from donors until the total is reached….”