Behind closed civic centre doors, the matter to be debated provides a snapshot of key London housing story issues – affordability, viability, profit versus social housing – which in this case dates back to June 2015, when Marks and Spencer announced the closure of its 77-year old Wood Green High Road store.
With the nearby branch of British Home Stores also closing a year later, the borough’s local plan allocated a significant stretch of the High Road for comprehensive redevelopment. An application for the M&S site duly came forward last year.
The developers proposed new ground floor retail space plus 128 homes above it, ranging from three to nine floors in height. Just nine per cent of them were rated “affordable”, and even that low level was deemed “unviable” in an assessment by property consultants Savills. The council’s independent assessment by BNP Paribas challenged a number of the applicant’s assumptions, but it was nonetheless agreed that the plan was not commercially viable.
Council officers discussed changes to the plan with the applicant, and this resulted in a revised, slightly smaller scheme, that was still technically unviable but had fewer one-bed units and an uplift to 25 per cent affordable housing, with the council having first refusal on the purchase of those for rent, achieved by reducing profit levels.
It still wasn’t good enough for planning committee councillors, and in October they rejected the revised scheme by seven votes to four against officers’ recommendations and despite warnings that the council’s 40 per cent affordable policy applies across the borough as a whole, not to every individual site.
Now, with an appeal against that rejection pending, legal advice contained in confidential reports apparently describes the committee’s stance as a “doomed case”, with no arguments available to counter the viability assessments and therefore “no realistic prospect of success” should it seek to resist the appeal.
With the risk of legal costs awarded against the council possibly reaching £300,000 and the applicant reserving its right to alter the affordable housing offer, tomorrow’s closed doors meeting will seek councillor agreement to drop its objection to the affordability level as it stands.
A second reason for refusal, on the basis of “overdevelopment” of the site, would remain. Will councillors settle for 25 per cent of something rather than 40 per cent of nothing, or stick to their guns? We’ll know by the end of Monday night.