Our favourite development north of the borough has been shortlisted for the ‘Stirling Prize’, the UK’s most prestigious architecture award. These horrible looking buildings on the doorstep of the Tate Gallery comprising 217 new homes, delivered 0% on-site affordable housing despite being in one of the highest value locations in London. In 2006 developer Native Land successfully argued with the aid of a viability assessment, firstly that the 40% affordable housing requirement was too high - that it could only afford 27.5%, and secondly that it would be better built elsewhere on land that the developer would acquire.1
But things haven’t worked out that way and in March this year Southwark signed off the affordable housing as delivered, when only 94 affordable homes have been provided by Native Land of which 62 are social rented. Native Land’s schedule of off-site provision is here and our schedule is as follows:
Lost social housing
Despite Southwark’s Head of Development Control insisting that all the off-site social housing has been delivered, our subsequent calls to provide a schedule of Neo Bankside’s off-site provision have been ignored. The developer has responded by claiming that it has built 132 homes in total of which 82 are social rented. But in doing so has included the affordable housing that was already being provided or was due to be provided by the housing associations delivering the developments on 3 of those sites.3
So it looks like we can add these 38 homes gone missing from NEO Bankside to the 44 social rented homes lost at Bermondsey Spa and wonder how many other developers are failing to deliver the affordable housing, required under the conditions of their planning permissions. We also wonder whether the 62 social rented units are being provided at true social rents, rather than the new ‘affordable rents’ of up to 80% market rent that we have seen them switched to elswhere.
We also wonder what Southwark is doing about this? It seems that the council has no development control or monitoring procedure to ensure developers comply with their s106 commitments. An audit is required to see how widespread this practice is.
The public benefits?
With the success of NEO Bankside being so widely trumpeted, it is worth noting that four of the six sites used for off-site provision were council owned sites sold to Native Land specifically for the purpose. Furthermore, one of these used to site a council-run Children’s home and another a council-run day nursery, neither of which are being reprovided. In paragraph 23 of its planning report for demolition of the day nursery, the council justified its decision on the basis of a “review of other nursery services” in which “it was found that the private and voluntary sectors also provide these services in the area.” As a result, the council declared that “there were sufficient places without the running of the nursery” and that “the nursery was no longer required and therefore available for disposal”.
Cooking the books
In 2014, when the council accidentally uploaded it to the new planning portal, we managed to obtain a copy of the viability assessment for the Neo Bankside planning application. The document showed that the developer had assumed an incredibly pessimistic estimate for the end sales values of the flats (average £754 per sqft, compared to the actual sales values achieved of £1,326 per sqft). While most boroughs forward their viability assessments to third-party consultants for appraisal, Southwark chose to do it in-house and in this case the developer’s estimates were not questioned by council officers appraising the figures.
Viability trumps all
Paragraph 77 of the officer’s report, also says that the viability assessment justified an abnormally high number of parking spaces (40% of the flats with parking) in what is supposed to be a car-free development zone. To accommodate this, the Neo Bankside development was built with a car-stacking apparatus and a two-level car parking basement underneath the site with 87 parking spaces.
Native Land is also about to start work on its ‘Bankside Quarter’ scheme adjoining its Neo Bankside site. Despite the Mayor claiming that 17-18% affordable housing on-site provision was perfectly viable here, this mammoth scheme (comprising 9 towers up to 49 storeys) pulled the same viability assessment trick and persuaded Southwark to accept £65m in-lieu of any affordable housing whatsoever. This pitiful contribution represents just 6.5% of the estimated total end value of the Bankside Quarter scheme (£1bn). We sincerely hope this scheme won’t be shortlisted for any awards.
The officer’s report for site 3 clearly states that __ “not all of the housing can be off set against the [NEO Bankside s106] requirement as the site would be required to provide 35% affordable housing regardless, therefore only 65% of the affordable housing would be capable of meeting the requirements of the Bankside s106”. __ The officer’s report for site 4 confirms the same. Site 6 was already under construction by housing association Family Mosaic when NEO Bankside intervened with a payment, persuading it to convert some of the homes originally consented as market housing to affordable housing. Native Land has subsequently sought to include these units along with those secured under Family Mosaic’s original planning consent within the calculation of its total. ↩