Another decision by Westminster City Council’s Planning Committee has seen families in need of affordable housing robbed of help. The decision was on a site at 138-142 Queensway and an area to the rear which fronts on to Inverness Terrace; it was previously occupied by a Tesco superstore, but it is being redeveloped into flats. As part of the planning permission, Westminster Conservatives allowed nearly £500,000 to be spent on new pavements rather than on building new affordable homes.
Work has actually started to build the scheme, including five affordable homes on the site which were intended for Octavia Housing. However, DCD Properties asked Westminster Council to remove the affordable homes, submitting a secret viability report arguing they couldn’t afford to pay a penny to help provide affordable homes elsewhere. Council officers then examined DCD’s viability figures and found that they could afford to pay up to £1,070,788, to which DCD agreed.
Then, at the Planning Committee on 17th September, DCD proposed to divert a substantial part of the money, around £500,000, to pay for environmental improvements in Queensway. Westminster Council Planning Officers firmly told Councillors on the Planning Committee that ‘it would be inappropriate for any affordable housing contribution to be allocated in whole or in part towards the Queensway Streetscape Improvements’, but the three Conservative members led by Committee Chairman Robert Davis agreed to DCD’s proposal.
Local residents’ group, South East Bayswater Residents’ Association (SEBRA) made the following representations to the Council about the loss of Affordable Housing from the plans for this luxury development;
“We have constantly objected to the five ‘Affordable Housing’ units not being provided on site as was originally agreed with this development. We have had very little ‘Affordable Housing’ provided in Bayswater over past few years and recently no schemes at all have provided such housing so now there is the danger that the area will no longer be a ‘mixed community’ in years to come. We note that the applicant has requested that a substantial (around 45%) part of the money offered in lieu of ‘Affordable Housing on site be reallocated towards Queensway Streetscape Improvements. It is absolutely amazing and almost scandalous that the applicant should have the cheek to make such an offer. We are pleased to note in the report that ‘it would be inappropriate for any affordable housing contribution to be allocated in whole in part towards the Queensway Streetscape Improvements’ and gives adopted Policy reasons for this position.
The loss of ‘Affordable Housing’ on the site is bad enough in itself and the amount offered in lieu of on site is less than should be paid under standard formula. The idea being idea suggested that any part at all of the ‘Affordable Housing’ money should go to improving the streetscape which in turns substantially will improve the value of the applicants land holding in Queensway (on west side whole block from Porchester Gardens to Bishop’s Bridge Road) beggars belief and we trust will be rejected out of hand. As is the case with other land owners in Queensway, any contributions sought to improving the streetscape (and therefore their land values) should be explored in the normal way – not in this case by ‘robbing’ any of the ‘Affordable Housing’ payment due.”
Labour Councillor David Boothroyd, who voted against the proposal, said
“Westminster Council is going against its own policy on affordable housing and losing huge amounts of money for affordable homes. The Conservatives don’t seem to understand that this is the biggest housing crisis for a generation and they are knowingly making things worse for families in housing need. “