The Wembley skyline is set to be transformed after plans to build two huge new tower blocks for student accommodation have been given the go ahead. However, the justification for the development has been questioned due to the ‘dire need’ for family homes in the borough.
The buildings, ranging from 20 to 22-storeys, will be sandwiched between High Road and the Chiltern railway line in Wembley, and comprise a total of 639 student bedrooms. The development was narrowly voted through by Brent Council’s planning committee last month (December 13).
The scheme had been criticised for not offering any affordable student accommodation at all, unlike the recently approved Fairgate House development adjacent to the site, which will see 349 rooms – 35 per cent of which will be ‘affordable’.
Wembley Hill ward councillor, Cllr Ihtesham Afzal, raised further concerns regarding whether increasing student accommodation should be prioritised over other much-needed types of homes. Student accommodation does contribute to the borough’s housing target, at a rate of 2.5 to one residential home, however, it does nothing to reduce its extensive housing waiting list.
Cllr Afzal said: “We understand the borough plan, and it stipulates the need for student accommodation, but we understand a lot clearer the need for housing for families. We understand the dire need so the first concern is, how can we justify student accommodation when we have families in need of housing?”
Due to the lack of affordable accommodation on offer, the developer, Regal London, has pledged £3.958m for affordable housing elsewhere in the borough, as well as a further £70k towards the development and maintenance of local parks.
Cllr Afzal emphasised the importance of making sure the proposed pots of funds provided by the developer are “spent appropriately”, should the plan go ahead, and raised further concerns regarding the “scale, scope and size” of the two blocks.
Regal London’s planning director, Steve Harrington, told the committee they are “very excited” to bring forward the project, which he claims will “meet the needs of those studying in Brent, as well as elsewhere in London”.
Mr Harrington suggested the financial contribution offered by the developers would be better than providing any affordable student accommodation as it could be used to provide the social housing needed at other sites throughout the borough. When questioned about simply building flats at the site, Mr Harrington claimed student accommodation is currently a “more viable” project.
The scheme narrowly passed by four votes to three, with Cllr Elliot Chappell, Cllr Liz Dixon, and Cllr Michael Maurice voting against it. All three highlighted the lack of affordable student accommodation as reasons for doing so, with Cllr Dixon claiming the financial contribution is “not enough” and should be renegotiated.
Cllr Maurice suggested the site would be better off being redeveloped as flats to tackle the housing shortage. He added: “I am not happy with the whole thing”. The plan will now be considered at ‘Stage 2’ by the London Mayor.