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Harrow Council’s development projects slammed for ‘not meeting own affordable housing targets’

Harrow Council has faced criticism over claims two of its flagship housing development projects ‘don’t meet its own affordable housing targets’.

Without extra funding, both sites would fall well short of the local authority’s target, but the deputy leader said affordable housing is ‘quite expensive’ for developers and if it’s not viable ‘then we get zero’.

Harrow Council’s Cabinet was pressed on the affordable housing numbers by a resident at a meeting earlier this month (March 14). If an application for grant funding fails, affordable housing numbers at Byron Quarter and Poets Corner could be as low as 27 per cent and 15 per cent respectively – far below the council’s 40 per cent target.

Charlotte Woodbridge questioned why the council has allowed developers to build on council land, or land that has been sold by the council, that fails to meet this target. Deputy Leader of the council and Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regeneration, Cllr Marilyn Ashton, assured residents that permission hasn’t been given and it is working to increase the numbers.

Cllr Ashton said: “What we have done is we’ve got an overarching business case for these plans on our own land. I can assure you that we are applying for grant funding and intend very much to increase the number of affordable homes.”

Harrow Council works alongside a development partner, Wates, to deliver new housing, including the redevelopment of the former Civic Centre into Poets Corner to provide 1,100 new homes, and turning the old driving school into Byron Quarter, comprising 149 homes. Cllr Ashton said Wates ‘are not a benevolent society’ for the council and they ‘have to make things viable’.

She added: “[…] the amount of affordable housing that we say that we can deliver without grant funding is the amount. We are being very straight forward about that. But we have no intention of doing it like that, obviously we intend to build a lot more.

“It’s quite expensive for developers to build affordable homes and the danger is if we go too far […] we end up not building anything. If something isn’t viable then we get zero per cent affordable homes. To get spades in the ground you have to make something viable. […] It’s with the grant funding that we will get a reasonable number of affordable homes.”

Charlotte argued that, as the viability is based on the projected value of the development after build, each time developers are allowed to reduce the affordable housing numbers it ‘perpetuates the sale of land at inflated prices’.

Harrow Council’s development projects slammed for ‘not meeting own affordable housing targets’ Harrow Online
Byron Quarter. 149 new homes will be built at the site of a former driving school. Image Credit: Harrow Council. Permission to use with all LDRS partners

She said: “This prevents community-led housing groups or others who intend to comply with the council’s affordable housing targets from successfully bidding for these sites. My two daughters have both moved out within the last three years because they cannot afford to live in London.”

Cllr Ashton acknowledged that the council has been ‘too lenient’ with developers on some projects within the borough over the past decade, under the control of both the Conservatives and Labour. She suggested some had failed to get enough affordable homes or a decent financial contribution for infrastructure projects, leaving the borough with ‘lots of tall buildings’ and ‘not many affordable homes at all’.

The council has announced plans to start the second phase of the Grange Farm development, the largest social housing estate in Harrow, which is set to be 100 per cent affordable housing. The first stage was completed last year and delivered 89 homes.

All three proposals are still due to come before the council’s planning committee, which is expected to happen over the next 12 months, so nothing has been decided yet. Charlotte is urging the council to make sure all developments meet the council’s 40 per cent affordable housing target and is calling for the refusal of planning permission to any residential developments that don’t.

Cllr Ashton said: “We should stick out for a higher level and that is something we have been doing lately. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

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