It has been more than six months since our last update. However, we (or at least our very own ‘planning nerd’ Nick Perry and his team of volunteer experts) have not been idle. This email reports:
An out of court settlement has provided us with the Financial Viability Assessments (and indicates that the planning committee were misinformed).
The developer Newmark Properties have sold the site and the new owner looks set to resell it in at least two parcels (which would preclude the original overdevelopment ever being realised).
The story so far ..
Nearly five years ago a developer announced plans to build a huge supermarket on the Wilmer Place site with 58 housing units on top. We opposed the development because of the damage it would do to Abney Park nature reserve and Stoke Newington’s independent stores, as well as the impact on local traffic and the lack of affordable housing on the scheme.
Hackney Council planning committee eventually approved the plans after two applications, but the Stokey Local campaign thought there were legal grounds for challenging this decision and continued the fight against the development, and the way the planning process is conducted, in the courts.
One of the main things Stokey Local campaigned against was the fact that the developer argued they could only include a small percentage of ‘affordable’ housing in the development.
This is justified by something called The Financial Viability Statement, basically arguing how much money the developer will make from the project. We argue this should be publicly available so it can be challenged if it seems developers are trying to get away with providing less affordable housing to maximise profits. The problem is, not only can local residents not see these figures, even the councillors making planning decisions don’t see them – so how can they decide what the developers can really afford?
Local resident Nick Perry and a team of lawyers challenged the secrecy of these documents at a judicial review, but unfortunately, the judge decided we did not need to see them to argue our case. However, Nick didn’t give up and, along with other campaigners from across London fighting unsuitable and unaffordable developments (such as the 35% Campaign for a more affordable Southwark and the Greenwich Peninsular campaigners), he’s been preparing to go back to court to argue for access to the developer’s financial viability documents. These campaigns have already successfully fought to get access to financial viability documents.
This is important because it would set a precedent in preventing developers getting away with wriggling out of their responsibilities to provide affordable housing in the future.
Nick was helped by planning expert Dr Bob Colenutt and Michael Armitage, a barrister at Monckton Chambers, working pro-bono. Having these experts on board seemed to get the opposition worried, and even Hackney Council got involved, hiring a top QC to defend its position – even though the documents we were arguing about were the developer’s, not the Council’s!
Putting aside the epic timewasting and the missed opportunity to argue the case in court, we now have the information we wanted and it is useful. We can see the sales valuations were too low (£500 per sq ft – this is over £800 now in N16), for instance. And we can see that the critical analysis wasn’t good enough. The planning subcommittee were misled at least twice during the planning application process. They were told the FVA (financial viability appraisal) had been reviewed externally, when it had not. Then they were told it had been updated, when it hadn’t. So the figures being used for deciding how much affordable housing could be provided were out of date.
The Council has agreed to pay our solicitor’s costs after we argued their decision to provide the documents at this late stage was unreasonable. Sadly, our barrister who has so generously given his time doesn’t get paid.
But the council really needs to start taking action on the financial viability ‘con’: other councils are doing it – Islington is tackling it already and Southwark and Westminster are following suit. Hackney needs to look at it too.
Meanwhile back at Wilmer Place…
Sainsbury’s, which was going to have the supermarket on the site, decided they no longer wanted to go ahead with the scheme. This meant the developer had planning permission for a scheme with no commercial partner.
The developer, Newmark, sold the site in October to Reichmann Properties for £15.1m. Newmark had paid £6m for it and probably spent £3-4m on costs, so the developer still made money, even without a development!
Reichmann Properties have already put in an application to cover the current factory building in brick slips and generally spruce it up, but not build on top of it.
An image of the new proposal for Wilmer place (but nothing is yet decided).
But last month they advertised the site for sale, with existing planning permission. They revealed they have talked to planners about a low-rise scheme for 11 houses on the plot, retaining the current car park. Reichmann also said they’d had an offer from M&S to lease the shop units and 20 car parking spaces.
We told the press that another M&S food store (as it must be at that size) would add nothing to the mix of shops and was not needed, but there was no escaping that it would be massively less harmful than the previously proposed large Sainsbury’s with five storeys of unaffordable housing on top.
It’s not impossible that someone could still come along and buy the plot and try and build something along the lines of the original proposed development, but it seems increasingly unlikely. Especially as they would still have to deal with the Stokey Local campaign – we don’t give up!
If you’ve been forwarded this email or haven’t been following the campaign recently you might like to find out more about our campaign to resist a mixed development comprising a large supermarket and 53 luxury flats, hard by Abney Park Cemetery. The development, by dint of its scale and position, will damage the local ecology, seclusion, heritage and trade. It offers only 9 “affordable” flats and a supermarket to add to 45 that are already within 1.8 miles of the site.
We took our battle to the High Court, but lost in 2014 and were refused permission to appeal, but the delay apparently caused the principal tenant, Sainsbury’s, to pull out. You can read more about our fight on our website.
It doesn’t look like the battle is over – we’re keeping an eye on developments and are hopeful that we’ll get a better outcome for the site and the local community.