Friday 4 March 2016

Tidemill School redevelopment - the numbers don't stack up.

Updated 11 March 2016 with the council's response, see the end of the post. 

Plans for a housing scheme on the site of the former Tidemill School on Frankham Street have been some time coming - it's now ten years since the Deptford regeneration master plan was first drawn up - and the scheme has already been through a series of changes to reach its current incarnation. The Frankham Street development is one of two in the council's romantically-monikered Deptford Southern Housing Sites Project, the other being the former Deptford Green School site on Amersham Vale.

But while this council-owned land was earmarked for mixed tenure development - incorporating private, shared ownership and social rented residential units - the opportunities for it to address the desperate housing need in Lewisham are now threatened by the developer's 'viability' assessment of the site. 

At a committee meeting last July, Lewisham's Mayor & Cabinet agreed to the appropriation of the Tidemill School land for residential development, but the number of social rented and shared ownership housing units that they were expecting to gain from the development has already been undermined by the developer's 'need' to make a 20% profit from the site.

The report which was put to the committee last July claimed that the development would provide 204 new homes, including 53 for social rent, 25 for shared ownership and 126 for sale.

The same report includes details of the Amersham Vale site, which claimed 117 new homes, including 24 for social rent; 15 for shared ownership and 78 for sale.

But take a look at the planning applications and you'll see that this is a far cry from what the developer is actually applying for.

Just six months on from the council signing off the decision to let the site be appropriated, the developer (Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes) not only proposes to up the number of residential units on the Tidemill site, but also to decimate the provision of social/shared ownership homes.

The total number of residential units proposed for the site is UP from 204 to 210.

But social rented is slashed from 53 to 26.
Shared ownership units slashed from 25 to just 8.

Cutting down on these troublesome 'affordable' units clears the way for an extra 50 private units, taking the figures from 126 up to 176. Trebles all round!

The same report includes figures for the Amersham Vale site, which the council suggests will provide 117 new homes - 24 for social rent, 15 shared ownership and 78 for sale. Again, in the developer's planning application the total number has gone up to 120, but the number of social rented units has  been slashed from 24 to just 14, and shared ownership from 15 to 5.

In the case of Tidemill, the developer's viability report claims that even this pitiful level of provision makes the site 'unviable' (i.e. unable to generate the required minimum of 20% profit) but they have 'agreed' to provide these units since the council wants them. How kind.

How can the numbers be so different in just six months? I don't know how the council came to its original tenure mix, but the developer of course has provided a confidential 'viability' report as part of its planning application.

Such viability reports are increasingly controversial, since they are often used to 'prove' that a site is unable to sustain the level of 'affordable' housing that the local authority demands. Last year Greenwich Council was ordered to publish the viability report relating to the Greenwich Peninsula redevelopment. In this case the report had been used to eliminate all 'affordable' housing on the development - Tidemill's developers may be mindful of this judgement in their kind offer to provide a few units as requested by the council.

Plans originally encompassed the two blocks of council houses on Giffin Street, but now instead incorporate a smaller block on Reginald Road. It's not entirely clear why this has changed, although given the pitiful mix of tenure that the proposed development is intending to offer, perhaps the council was afraid of being left with homeless tenants on its hands?

Or maybe they haven't noticed? A report to Lewisham's Housing Select Committee tabled for next week is still quoting the old figures.

This change in the figures for proposed tenure mix over just a few months also invites the question of accountability. The mayor & cabinet made a decision based on figures that might just as well have been conjured out of thin air - but the decision on the planning application will be made by the strategic planning committee. Presumably councillors Damien Egan and Kevin Bonavia, who are members of both, will be asking difficult questions about the numbers when it comes to committee...

Essentially the site, which covers the area bounded by Frankham Street, Reginald Road and New Butt Lane, and also swallows up Frankham St car park (as opposed to the Frankham St parking boulevard) involves the demolition of two buildings, the construction of several new ones, the extension both sideways and upwards of the former Tidemill School, and the obliteration of the former school garden, now known as the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden.

The potential loss of the latter in particular has sparked a healthy protest and an online petition, and I can understand why people would want to preserve this green space so close to the high street. It has been cared for by a group of volunteers for the last couple of years and is open for public access, courses and other events on a regular basis.

The proposal includes funding to provide what is called a 'pocket park' - a term I find immensely depressing. For me it conjures up a vision of a couple of square metres of grass with some dog turds and a rusty bench, cast into shadow by the surrounding buildings for 90% of the day. 

The pocket park proposed by the Tidemill development is in fact just a pimping of the corner plot that acts as a buffer between the flats in Frankham House and the thundering juggernauts of Deptford Church Street. The suggestion that anyone would want to sit here and take in views of the traffic queuing for the junction with the A2 is laughable. The planting might be an improvement but they could probably save a bit of money on benches.

There is also a public space in the development, and a number of new routes will be opened up through the land, but other parts of the site have communal gardens that are reserved for residents only.

Neighbours across the street in Reginald Road, and in Frankham House will have to suffer higher blocks in close proximity, and the density across the site is pretty high.

The old school building is to be retained, but with the caretaker's building at the east side of it demolished, and new extensions added upwards and eastwards. The council block on Reginald Road will be demolished and tenants rehoused on the new site. 

For a detailed assessment of the planning application I recommend the recent post on Crosswhatfields blog, which highlights many of the issues that the proposals raise, as well as the potential impact on the wider area.

Full planning documents are here

Lewisham Council has sent a statement in response to this post, I have reproduced it in full below: 

"The proposed development of the old Tidemill school and Reginald Road is part of our wider approach to the regeneration of Deptford, towards which we have been working for around 10 years. 

The Council is working with developers Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes to deliver these two sites, known collectively as Deptford Southern Housing. 

The Council has already made significant investment to improve local services as part of a strategic approach to Deptford’s regeneration. This has included building the new Tidemill primary school and Deptford Lounge, improvements to Wavelengths and the Frankham Street parking boulevard. 

This up-front investment needs to be funded, in part at least, through land sales from subsequent phases of the wider regeneration programme, including those now proposed in the Deptford Southern Housing project. 

The planning submission from the developer for Deptford Southern Housing is, as legally required by planning policies, based on a financial viability assessment that takes into account (amongst other things) the market value of the land and the number of affordable housing units that can be accommodated by the developer on the payment of that market value. 

When the Council owns the land, as in this case, it can choose, quite separate from the planning process, to negotiate the sale of the land and the volume of affordable housing beyond what is required as part of the planning application. 

We are pleased to report that, using this flexibility, we have reached a legally-binding development agreement with Family Mosaic, Mulalley and Sherrygreen Homes that will deliver significantly more affordable homes than that set out in the planning viability assessment. As a result, the proposed development of the old Tidemill school and Reginald Road will provide 37% affordable housing – the target level that was reported to Mayor and Cabinet in July 2015. 

In total there will be 210 much-needed new homes, including 53 for social rent and 25 for shared ownership. The new development will also include provision of a range of amenity spaces – private, communal and public – including a central green square. 

The proposed development at Amersham Grove will provide 120 new homes, including 24 for social rent and 15 for shared ownership. In addition, the developers are building out the new Charlottenburg Park, which already has planning permission. 

The proposals for each scheme are subject to planning approval that will take into account the normal planning considerations including the scheme viability assessment described above. Planning applications for each were submitted in January 2016 and a formal period of consultation closed on 2 March. The application will now be considered by the Council’s strategic planning committee – the date of this meeting has yet to be set."


The Grim Reaper said...

Most Town Planning departments in London are bamboozled by viability reports. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have published guidance 'Financial viability in planning' that is clear such assessments should be based on 'Site Value', which is very clearly defined:

page 4
Site Value should equate to the market value(1) subject to the following assumption:
that the value has regard to development plan policies and all other material planning considerations and disregards that which is contrary to the development

page 55 - footnotes
1 The estimated amount for which an asset or liability should exchange on the valuation date between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arm’s-length transaction after properly marketing and where the parties had each acted knowledgeably, prudently and without compulsion.

However developers get away with claiming the price that they paid (or the price they claim they paid) as the 'site value'. This means that a developer can pay over the odds for a site, knowing that the council will roll over and allow them to reduce S.106 contributions / affordable housing to compensate for their profligacy.

There is no credible reason why viability reports should be confidential. The 'site value' is as defined above, the price paid is not relevant (and a matter of public record via the Land Registry anyway), build costs are pretty standard for a building of x height, y mass, z materials, xx location etc.

In the City of London, the Candy Brothers tried claiming that they could not afford the social housing contribution (the City still builds social housing) in regard of their Sugar Quay development and officers recommended acceptance, but elected members apparently revolted (the 'confidential' viability report was discussed in a closed session) and refused to accept the recommendation. The developers appealed and the Planning Inspector upheld the member's decision.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Deptford Dame for highlighting this issue

From a friend of Old Tidemill Garden

Anonymous said...

Deptford can be criticised for a lot of things, but not the lack of social housing. We already have some of the highest proportion in London. SE8 has almost 48% vs 32% for Lewisham and 17.6% nationally.

Deptford Dame said...

@anon 23.34 the post is not commenting on the level of social housing in Deptford.

Anonymous said...