The latest large planning application at the Elephant will provide zero affordable housing and zero social rented housing. It is for Skipton House, behind the Bakerloo line tube entrance and it joins Eileen House, Strata Tower, Tribeca Square, 360 Tower and One the Elephant in the ongoing efforts to turn the Elephant into a social housing free zone.
The application is for 50,000 sq metres of offices, shops and 421 housing units. An art house cinema is also proposed, as part of the ‘cultural offering’. Developer London and Regional Properties (L&R) obviously believe this will compensate for not providing homes that anybody can actually afford to live in. They say that ‘The level of affordable housing that could be delivered in conjunction with the Development, and its cultural offer, will be determined through discussions with Southwark Council and the submission and appraisal of a Financial Viability Assessment’ (Draft S106 Heads of Terms) .
This is very gracious of L&R, but ignores the well-known requirement for 35% affordable housing, half of which should be social rented (Core Strategy Policy 6). This would give us about 147 affordable units, 70 of which would be social rented.
L&R pre-empt the outcome of the Financial Viability Assessment by stating in their application that all the 421 homes will be free-market (Section 17 Application form). L&R are instead angling to make an in lieu payment for off-site affordable housing, so that their site will be left unsullied by anyone who cannot afford what is likely to be a minimum £500k price tag for a new home. They say ‘… it is therefore felt that the provision of affordable housing off-site (either directly by the Applicant or via a financial contribution) could help to facilitate a broader mix and earlier delivery of affordable tenures’ (11.28 Planning Statement).
L&R support their argument by claiming that the development is one of ‘exceptional circumstances’. This boils down to giving priority to building office space. L&R also trot out the well-worn argument that providing affordable housing means building a separate core (providing what’s become known as ‘poor doors’) which in turn would ‘reduce the efficiency of the Development and ultimately the overall viability.’ If this is not sufficient to convince Southwark to give up hope of any on-site affordable housing L&R adds another developer favourite, that ‘the proposed strategy for the inclusion of the large communal residential terrace……would also need to be reflected in service charges for any affordable rented units’ (Quotes from Planning Statement).
L&R have produced a viability appraisal to justify themselves, but despite the imminent adoption of a policy that would make these public, a request by 35% campaign for the appraisal has not been met.
All-in-all, the Skipton House application is a nice example of how a selfish developer (the only kind?) can design affordable housing out of a development and use ‘culture’, something that might bind a community together, to do the opposite and exclude those who just aren’t rich enough.