“Let’s all of us stand up for more social housing” was the call to arms during the ‘impassioned speech’ from Notting Hill Housing Trust’s Director Kate Davies at yesterday’s ‘Homes for Britain’ rally. The rally was part of an ongoing campaign organised by the National Housing Federation, of which NHHT is a founding member.

Notting Hill CEO - Kate Davies

We have blogged previously about NHHT’s dodgy definition of social housing and its blanket policy of converting all its existing social rented properties to affordable rent when tenancies expire. We also blogged about Kate Davies’ involvement in the Tory-led think tank that lobbied for the introduction of affordable rent.

So we have taken a closer look at the kind of ‘social’ housing Notting Hill’s Director wants us all to stand up for more of.

This is ‘The Exchange’ in Bermondsey, Notting Hill’s latest completed development in Southwark and part of the Bermondsey Spa regeneration scheme. All but three private and two shared-ownership units in this 205-home development have been sold and of those that remain the private flats are priced at over £1m and the shared-ownership flats require a minimum salary of £73,986 to qualify.

‘The Exchange’ - Notting Hill’s 205 unit development at the Bermondsey Spa regeneration scheme (site 5C)

The development should also have had 44 social rented units, to replace the 54 council homes demolished to make way for ‘The Exchange’. Demolition of 54 council homes on the site

44 social rented units were duly proposed in Notting Hill’s planning application for the site and that’s what was confirmed in the planning officer’s report. Paragraphs 27 & 29 of the GLA planning report also confirmed that the development proposed 44 social rented homes. However, after approval was given Southwark Council and Notting Hill signed-off the s106 legal agreement with something completely different - 44 ‘affordable rented’ units (ie. up to 80% market rents) not 44 social rented units.

Officers report states social rent but S106 Agreement says affordable rent

The change in wording is subtle but the consequences aren’t; according to Southwark’s own figures, a 1-bed social rented flat in Bermondsey(SE16) costs an average £97 per week, compared to well over three times this for ‘affordable rent’ at 80% market rent.

We double checked against this against the GLA affordable housing data, which confirmed that the rents are indeed set at up to 57% market rent. We then contacted a local councillor for the Bermondsey Spa area and he wrote to Notting Hill, who confirmed that the rents were actually as high as 62% market rent.

It’s hard not to conclude that the public has been deceived over this development: it was led to believe that it was getting social rents at all stages up to and including planning approval.

Having cross checked a number of other developments, we have found that this sleight-of-hand tenure switch is becoming commonplace in Southwark’s planning process.

We have also shown in previous blog posts how Notting Hill is using the terms ‘social’, ‘target’ and ‘affordable’ rent interchangably in its forthcoming application for the Aylesbury estate redevelopment and blogged about the worrying fact that affordable rents of up to 80% are included in the Notting Hill development agreement for the Aylesbury.

Extract from Aylesbury estate Development Agreement

So, we have to ask the question - will the Aylesbury go the same way as the Bermondsey Spa regeneration with affordable rent slipped in quietly through the back door?

Notting Hill’s Director & Southwark council leader celebrate demolition of Aylesbury redevelopment’s phase 2

One way of finding out would be to for details of Notting Hill’s funding allocation for the Aylesbury redevelopment. It has currently secured a total of £92m in funding from the Mayor’s Affordable Homes Programme and is by far the largest single recipient of funding from it. London Assembly member Darren Johnson recently tabled a formal question to the Mayor about the tenure mix linked to Notting Hill’s £92m allocation. We will be watching out for the Mayor’s response.

We need to let the council know that the game is up and that we are not going to accept this disingenuous racket. The Aylesbury planning application is due to be heard by committee on 14th April and we will be making our voices heard.

Postscript update

The people at Southwark Notes couldn’t quite believe that Notting Hill had passed off affordable rent as social rent at its Bermondsey Spa site, so they attempted to seek confirmation via twitter:

Notting Hill unashamedly confirmed that Bermondsey Spa’s 44 ‘social rented’ units were indeed let at affordable rather than social rents, but that these generally averaged just 58% of market rent:

Local newspaper ‘Southwark News’ has also since picked up the story:

Southwark Council probes 44 missing social homes

Southwark Council takes no action over 44 missing social housing units