Friday, 20 January 2017

Fire station development approved with no affordable housing, none

by Councillor James Peters

Last Wednesday, I went to the planning meeting at the Town Hall about the building planned for the site of the old fire station on Kingsland Road.  I went to explain why the Council must make sure that those applying for planning permission include affordable housing in their buildings - that's to say, homes that people in Hackney can actually afford to live in.

A few other people had reservations about the application too:

What I was concerned about

If you're interested, you can read my objection to the original application here.  You may have seen the coverage in the local press.

At the meeting, we heard a variety of things about whether the financing of the scheme would allow the developer to build the new school on the site, the 68 flats for sale, and also provide some affordable housing.  My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggested they could.  I mean, look at this 2-bedroom flat going for comfortably over £1,000,000 a few dozen metres south of the fire station site:

Crucially, there were questions about how much money the Education Funding Agency (the body that funds the Government's "free schools") wanted back from the £16 million it had paid for the land:

To put the discussion in context, I spoke about the housing crisis that we're facing in Hackney (here's a good piece about the dire local situation and some more facts and figures).  We literally have thousands of Hackney families in emergency housing because housing is too expensive in Hackney.  And I'm using the word "literally" literally in that sentence.  We desperately need more homes that aren't priced out of reach for ordinary people.

The planning system can (and has to) be part of the solution, not part of the problem

Here in Hackney, we have a "core" planning policy that, amongst other things, says the following:

So, if a new building is going to have more than 10 homes, 50% of them should be affordable (and, unless there are exceptional circumstances, the affordable homes must be in the building).  Here, we had an original application for a block of 68 flats with zero affordable housing.  None at all.

At the meeting, I asked how granting the planning permission could possibly be compatible with our planning policy.

We, as a Council, need to be holding developers to these planning policies so that they help the Council to build the affordable housing that we so desperately need in Hackney. (Being strong in applying planning policies requiring affordable housing will also mean that those developers factor in the cost of including affordable housing when buying land.)

The Council is building affordable housing:

- Mayor of Hackney, Phil Glanville

...and we need developers to do so too.

As I pointed out at the planning meeting, Sadiq Khan has realised that we need to use the planning system to get affordable housing built and we need to examine developers' claims very carefully when they say they can't include affordable housing in their new buildings.  Mayor Khan has published (draft) guidance that says about itself:

The developers should put all their cards on the table and planning committees should examine very closely any claims that their schemes' finances don't allow them to build any affordable housing.

I asked the planning committee to postpone its decision and to really take a look at whether we could ask the developer to build affordable housing in the development for which they were asking for planning permission, or whether it would make the whole scheme unviable.  After all, our "core" planning policy says that we will do this (see above) and during this housing crisis, we need all the affordable housing we can get.

What was decided

In the end, the applicant said that they would give the Council £1.5 million to build homes somewhere else in Hackney and the Council's planning committee granted the application.

You'll find news reports here and here.

The result of closing the fire station

And if you're wondering about what has happened to fire engine response times in De Beauvoir since Boris closed our local fire station, there are a few figures in this report.


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