Concerns abut the O2 Application provision of Affordable Housing, Dwelling Mix and Single-Aspect dwellings

This document highlights the non-compliant aspects of the O2 Centre redevelopment proposals against specific planning policies (from the London Plan, the Camden Local Plan, the Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan and the NPPF) relating to Affordable Housing, Dwelling Mix and Single-Aspect Dwellings.

It also calls attention to a recent letter to Councillors by the Chairman of the London Assembly Planning & Regeneration Committee, giving the findings of their Housing Typologies Investigation, including the problems and excess financial and carbon costs associated with excessively tall buildings. Letter (london.gov.uk).

Introduction

Inadequate % Affordable Housing, and insufficient % Low Cost Rental within the affordable housing total

Only a 35% proportion of affordable housing is provided on site, significantly below the policy requirement of 50% specified in Local Plan Policy H4, and in London Plan Policy H4. This requirement is also specifically strengthened by Policy 1(i) of the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan. 

The current affordable housing offer is precisely the least affordable allowed under the threshold approach based on not just one metric, but three. The ‘Financial Viability Assessment’ (FVA), which shows a marginal return and is used as justification for the very minimal amount of affordable housing. It needs careful review by an independent expert not someone already deeply involved in preparing the current Planning submission for the developer. To understand if the viability is genuinely as poor as is being asserted, there must be an impartial assessment. 

Duncan Bowie, former lead housing planner at the GLA and one of the key instigators of the London density matrix,…predicts that the unilateral pursuit of higher densities and the abandonment of the London density matrix will do all of the following: lower affordability, reduce sunlight levels, restrict privacy and – since it reduces amenity space – create inadequate housing for families.  Housing density: does it stack up? from Building – 28 March 2018

Landsec should be asked to consider cost reduction measures that would allow the percentage of affordable housing (and the percentage of low cost rental housing within that) to be improved. Such measures could include reconsideration of the wasteful (in terms of both carbon emissions and cost) proposal to demolish the O2 Centre and replacing the floorspace for a proportion of its amenities and retail activities piecemeal through the scheme.

The measure of % affordable housing expressed as % Units, rather than by % floor area would create results 4% worse against both the 35% overall affordable target (Policy H4), as well as against the Low Cost Rental target of 60% of all affordable housing (Policy H7 of London Plan). This is glossed-over in the developer’s Affordable Housing Statement, and means even greater non-compliance against both Policies, than already appears to be the case.

Inappropriate Dwelling Mix

In the absence of controls, developers (both public and private sector) will tend to reduce the size of dwellings being developed whilst trying to minimise any reduction in value. Studies indicate a pattern of increased “cramming” of rooms (such as additional bathrooms) into dwellings leading to smaller habitable rooms and significant reductions in storage space.

Mayor of London – Housing Space Standards -2006

The Camden Local Plan Policy H7 states “The Council will aim to secure a range of homes of different sizes that will contribute to creation of mixed, inclusive and sustainable communities and reduce mismatches between housing needs and existing supply”. 

The dwelling mix currently offered is heavily skewed towards excessive numbers of studio/1 bed flats, and far too few larger 3-bed and no 4-bed units. This will simply encourage more transient single tenants, and discourage growing families from settling in the area long-term; families will instead continue to be forced to move out of Camden altogether in search of larger, more affordable, housing, as many already do. This is already a major problem in West Hampstead. It must not be exacerbated by the O2 Centre redevelopment.

Excessive proportion of Single Aspect Dwellings

Some 45% of the 608 homes proposed in the detailed proposal will be single aspect, broken down as follows: Private – 420 homes, 210 single aspect; Social rent – 104 homes, 10 single aspect; Intermediate – 84 homes, 52 single aspect. 

This flagrantly breaches the London Plan Policy D6 that housing development “should normally avoid the provision of single aspect dwellings.” No effort is made to meet the condition set out in London Plan Policy D6 that “a single aspect dwelling should only be provided where it is considered a more appropriate design solution to meet the requirements of Part B in Policy D3 Optimising site capacity through the design-led approach than a dual aspect dwelling, and it can be demonstrated that it will have adequate passive ventilation, daylight and privacy, and avoid overheating” resulting in a significant policy conflict.”

WithThanks to Eric Peel

O2 Development – Needs Improvement

Greater London Planning Report April 2022 – Conclusion

London Plan policies on housing, town centres, social infrastructure, public open space, affordable housing, urban design, strategic views, historic environment, transport, and climate change and the environment are relevant to this application. The application does not yet comply with these policies, as summarised below:

• Land use principles: The comprehensive redevelopment of a highly accessible, under-utilised site, made up of large areas of surface-level retail car parking, between two town centres and within a growth area, for the delivery of new housing and town centre uses, is strongly supported; subject to further consideration of the scale, type, and location of town centre uses. The demolition of the existing O2 Centre has been assessed against Circular Economy principles and parts of the existing substructure could be retained, which is welcome

• Affordable housing: 35% (by habitable room), split 60% London Affordable Rent and 40% intermediate rent within both the Detailed and Outline Phases. The applicant should confirm the affordability of the tenures proposed, and an element of London Living Rent should be considered. Subject to this, meeting all other policy requirements, and investigating grant funding; the proposals may be eligible to follow the fast track viability route.

• Urban design and historic environment: The site is not identified as appropriate for tall buildings and there are concerns that the scale and massing of Outline Phase 3 results in some areas of non-compliance with London Plan Policy D9(C), including ‘less than substantial’ harm to the significance of heritage assets.

The applicant should provide clarification on the height strategy in response to site’s topography, consider means to reduce the level of harm to heritage assets and townscape, and better respond to Policy D9.

The proportion of single aspect homes for the Detailed Phase should be reduced and family-sized removed, and separation distances between homes increased. Parameter Plan and Design Code changes are required.

A revised Fire Statement is required.

• Transport: The move to a car free development in this highly accessible location is strongly supported; however, the potential to facilitate active travel, mode shift, and improved legibility is not yet realised. Improving the accessibility and capacity of public transport, in the context of displaced car trips, increased density, and range of land uses is a priority.

The safeguarding of areas of land for the improvement of adjacent stations is required and discussions are ongoing concerning step free access. Improved bus access and infrastructure must be secured.

• Climate change and environment: Further information is required on energy, whole life carbon, circular economy, green infrastructure, water, and air quality.

How to Comment on Camden Planning Applications

Local authorities grant or refuse planning permission primarily on the basis of planning law and their own development plans. Camden also has to take account of The Mayor’s ‘London Plan’, and in West Hampstead, the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

The Government’s Guidance on making planning decisions says that:

‘…the decision must be made in accordance with the development plan unless there are material considerations that indicate otherwise’ (taken from Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004).

Material considerations

Exactly what issues can be included as ‘material considerations’ are not codified in law, but examples that could be used to object effectively to an application are:

  • Overshadowing
  • Overlooking and loss of privacy
  • Layout and density of building
  • Overbearing nature of the proposal and height
  • Design and appearance of materials
  • Adequacy of infrastructure and / or social facilities
  • Effect on surrounding area (including conservation areas)

(Whilst many of these appear generally in Camden’s own policies, it would still be relevant to comment on exactly how each relate to a particular development.)

The authority also has to take account of other planning considerations, such as:

  • Draft proposals in the local development plan which have not yet been ratified.
  • Previous planning decisions (including appeals), for the sake of consistency

The ‘Planning Balance’

The process of weighing up all the competing factors is often called the ‘planning balance’. In making a decision, the planning authority must examine their development plans and take all the material considerations into account, according to their relative importance. This judgement is not the final responsibility of the courts. However, if the all various factors are not properly considered, the final decision may be unlawful.

References:

Royal Town Planning Institute: ‘Material Planning Considerations” http://www.rtpi.org.uk/media/686895/Material-Planning-Considerations.pdf

How to contact Camden Planning

·        Comments about Planning Applications – both large and small – can be made online through the Planning Portal (see Links) using the Application number which usually starts with the current year and ends with a capital P ie 2022/—-/P but there will be no confirmation of receipt in return, your post make take three days to appear or go missing altogether so it is a good idea to write & post a recorded letter or email a copy of your comment to the Case Officer named in the application.As Camden’s IT can be unstable, this gives extra security that your comment will be noted & logged.

Post your comments to : Planning Application Comments /Regeneration and Planning Development Management, London Borough of Camden, Town Hall, Judd Street, London WC1H 8ND                                                              

·        Many planning applications are simplistic, short on detail and accompanied by inscrutable drawings. There is a reason for this. It gives the applicant scope to expand or modify the work after planning has been granted. Nowadays there is less supervision from Camden during building works so scrutiny at the planning application stage is very important.  Watch out for applications which play down the extent of development to be undertaken or drawings which are unreadable or misleading. A general vagueness and mystery is intended to limit objection. Although the Planning site is not very user-friendly and clicking through the the list of documents may be unexciting, take the time to study the material attached to the application. It will be worth it!