Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes, but I would posit a third: NIMBYism. This time it concerns the redevelopment of the Goodmayes Tesco Extra in Redbridge. For those who don’t know it, this 10.4 acre site sits right next to Goodmayes train station. The vast majority of the land is given over to a gigantic car park and petrol station.
Redbridge Council has a housing need target of just over 1,100 homes a year. This is a relatively low number given the scale of London’s – and Redbridge’s – housing need, and should be perfectly achievable. Yet Redbridge has failed to meet its target for the past three years, delivering just 59 per cent of the required number.
Good news, then, when in May this year the council gave the green light to the redevelopment of the Tesco Goodmayes site – a year and a half after the application was filed by builder Weston Homes, itself following months of local consultation.
The proposal includes 1,280 new homes, of which 35 per cent are to be affordable. Alongside those homes will come a new primary school, village hall, community hub, a replacement Tesco store, plus 7.9 acres of landscaped grounds, tree-lined avenues and green roofscapes. As part of the permission, the developer also agreed to conduct landscaping works on the nearby Barley Lane recreation ground. Given the substantial pressure Redbridge planners are under to get more homes built, it was an impressive feat to negotiate such a good package.
Naturally, the proposals attracted the standard local opposition, which bestowed on it the name “Tesco Toxic Towers” (petrol stations and massive car parks being apparently less toxic) and gathered 3,000 signatures on a petition saying there were already problems with drugs and prostitution in the area and that new homes would “only serve to give these criminals another place to ply their trades”.
You may laugh at this slightly dim view taken of the forthcoming neighbours, but local MP Sam Tarry did not. In response to the now-familiar barrage of local complaints he’d received, he issued a letter to Sadiq Khan, asking him to overrule Redbridge’s planning permission.
Tarry’s letter encompassed the same long list of complaints that most large developments receive, but two in particular stand out. The first was a complaint that there was not enough affordable housing included. This is despite the fact that the scheme meets the Mayor’s affordable housing target of 35 per cent.
You might argue, as I have, that affordable housing should be primarily for social rent, as opposed to other types like discount market sale and shared ownership, as is the case with this scheme. But going back to the drawing board is unlikely to result in more social rented homes, especially not in view of Tarry’s other concern – that the buildings would be too tall. Social rented homes are funded through a proportion of the developer’s profits. If you reduce the height of the buildings, that pot of funding reduces too. More affordable homes and fewer homes are two demands that do not sit easily together.
The second of Tarry’s curious complaints is that the new residents would add too much pressure to local health services. He himself then highlights the two new healthcare facilities that are currently being planned in the immediate vicinity, but says it is unclear when these will be ready. How easily in this country we get trapped in the loop of not building homes because we haven’t built the GP surgery to go with them yet, and not building the GP surgery because local services aren’t yet enough oversubscribed to justify establishing a new one.
After receiving critical responses from people querying where households are supposed to live, and how much more air pollution will be generated from urban sprawl because we don’t build densely on such sites, Tarry locked down replies on his Twitter account and started blocking people who challenged him.
In any case, the decision now sits with the Mayor, who has not given any indication that he will overrule Redbridge’s decision. Mike Gapes – the former MP of the seat – responded to the kerfuffle by drily commenting that his successor should set up a “NIMBY all-party parliamentary group” with the Conservative MP for Chelsea & Fulham, given their shared affection for opposing vitally-needed homes on brownfield sites. Don’t give them ideas Mike!
Anya Martin is director of PricedOut, England’s campaign for housing affordability. PricedOut calls for action from government to build more homes and reduce the cost of decent housing.
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