Stop Letting Private Developers Off the Hook

A concerning precedent has been set in recent months by Havering Council’s Planning Department, which arguably counteracts attempts to tackle the housing crisis for local people. In October the CPA studios development in Romford came to my attention, where IPE North Street Ltd proposed to pay £693,936 in lieu of delivering five social rent homes on the 66-unit site. On the face of it this money can be used to deliver those properties as part of another project, but the real issue here is it provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card for any developer looking to avoid delivering 35% affordable units, passing the buck onto the authority. This move will lead to both a decline in homes local people can afford and will undermine social cohesion by creating ‘exclusive’ estates.

Whilst I always champion council housing at traditional low rents, I also understand the need for mixed tenancies as well. The worrying trend in Havering is counter-productive to both and hands power to private developers. Housing developments, if properly planned, rarely lose money. Local authorities are therefore in a position of strength, as primary landowners, to ensure developers are building homes that residents can afford.

The reality is that most people on housing waiting lists simply cannot afford the standardised “affordable” option which comes in at 80% of market rents, and the new fad of shared-ownership as an “affordable” option leaves people, primarily young people, trapped.

Councils should correlate affordability to average local wage levels, ensuring that “affordable” means no more than a third of the average local income on a borough by borough basis.

We’ll be told that this isn’t viable. However, the truth of the matter is that if the political will is there it can be done. It’s time to challenge developers’ notion of viability, designed to maximise their profits at the expense of the housing needs of local families. Basing a development on a 15–35-year return hikes the rents up and is contrary to the interests of millions across the country, pushing many in areas like Romford further away from the security of a home.

The Becontree Estate in Dagenham was built 100 years ago, it remains the most ambitious and largest council housing scheme in the United Kingdom. It was built on a 45-year return model, provided good quality family homes with supporting social infrastructure, and has paid for itself over and above. Whilst an early 20th Century renaissance isn’t the answer, we can learn a lot about sustainable place making from the Becontree Estate.

Stop letting private developers off the hook, start holding them to account. Romford deserves a better future and neither private nor so called “affordable” housing is the answer that young people, families, and all those in between desperately need.