King’s Cross: the dark side

April 19th, 2015

This post would have been on the web site of the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group but that group wound itself up a couple of years ago (and its web site is archived at the BL) so the post appears here for convenience. M.E. 19 April 2015

Thanks to William McClennan, a vigilant journalist on the (exemplary) Camden New Journal, we learned that Argent had sought to reduce the number of social housing and “Intermediate” units which had been agreed in their S106 Agreement of 2006. This variation in the contract was sought because the reduction in government grants for social housing now meant that the ‘viability’ of the scheme would, allegedly, be undermined. His article appeared on 9 April:’s-cross-social-homes-developer-bids-build-more-luxury-flats

A number of those people who had been involved in the decades of earlier struggles to secure more social housing got in touch with each other and decided to put together a protest in the hope of persuading Camden to take a tougher line or persuading Argent to honour their original commitments. When we looked at the original agreement and the Camden officers’ report on the proposed reduction in numbers it appeared that Camden were, at least superficially, powerless to resist the change because of the intricacies of the original agreement. KXC s106 Variation LBC Officers’ report

So we wrote to the CNJ as follows:

 Argent proposal to reduce their social/affordable housing commitment at King’s Cross

 The Editor, CNJ, 14 April 2015

If Camden Council agree Argent’s attempt to reduce the number of affordable homes on King’s Cross Central it will be a terrible betrayal of the King’s Cross community and of the 29,000 households on Camden’s housing waiting list.

 The people signing this letter are just a few of those who took part in the long struggle a decade ago which led to the compromises in the Planning Gain (Section 106) Agreement Camden signed with Argent and its development partners. The agreed numbers of social-rented and other “affordable” homes in the plan added up to just 40%, a great disappointment to local people who had fought for the 50% target set by Camden and by the Mayor’s London Plan.

 We were told then that these numbers were the best the Council could negotiate without sacrificing other community benefits which it wanted from the development.

 Roger Madelin, the Chief Executive of Argent, defended the deal by saying the development had to be economically robust enough to stay viable through more than one property cycle and they were expecting some good and bad periods.

 When the new coalition government took office in 2010 it decided developers could re-negotiate Section 106 agreements if the financial crisis had undermined their viability. But London property values are now well above their pre-crash levels (35% on average for housing). For example, flats on the site advertised for sale this year include a one-bed flat for £985,000 and two-bed flat for £1,335,500. Their scheme is now internationally acclaimed as a commercial triumph, with Google as the jewel in their crown.

 We understand from the Camden officers’ report that Argent could, if their request to reduce their social housing obligations is denied, fall back on a legal device in the original Agreement which would enable them to deliver even less, simply because of the change in the government grant regime. To change the agreement Argent would need to secure Camden’s consent and to do that they would need to present an up-to-date viability assessment and satisfy Camden’s own experts and councillors that their scheme’s viability really is at risk if they honour their obligations. In the light of recent Information Tribunal decisions such ‘viability’ analyses should be in the public domain. As citizens and voters we want to see the sums.

As recently as autumn 2014, Argent’s Robert Evans introduced a report by the Centre for London saying proudly: “Argent makes places for people… Our current largest project is the redevelopment of King’s Cross, where we are delivering 2,000 new homes; 40% of the residential is classed as affordable in tenure.…” 

 It is difficult to see what has altered since then.

 Yours sincerely,

Cllr Sian Berry (in a personal capacity)

Ex-Cllr Paul Braithwaite (HS2 campaign)

Andrew Bosi (Cally Rail Group)

Michael Edwards (KXRLG)

Marian Larragy (KXRLG)

Una Sapietis (KXRLG)

Diana Shelley (Cally Rail Group)

Del Brenner (Regent’s Network, KXRLG)

Richard Lee (KXRLG)

Angela Inglis (KXRLG, CAAC)

This is our letter as it appeared in the CNJ on 16th April’s-cross-central-will-developer-betray-people

Councillor Sian Berry wrote this up on her blog, and added a picture of us

Council responds: meanwhile, on 15 April, Councillor Phil Jones responded to an email from Marian Larragy as follows:

Dear Marian

… I wanted to come back as promised to clarify some further points.

You ask what approach I am taking to this regrettable situation: it is to maximise the largest possible number of genuinely affordable homes delivered on the site, in line with the objectives of the council’s Labour group. I do believe that, taking into account the circumstances and the legal realities, the proposal that has been negotiated and set out in the report is the best that can be made of a bad situation. The key point is that by failing to act we would have ended up with just 74 social rented units, but instead there will be 127 delivered. Obviously this is not as good as the 148 envisaged in 2006 and it is a matter of deep regret that we and the households of Camden in housing need are suffering this loss. But sacrificing some of the intermediate Homebuy and shared ownership units that would have been far out of the financial reach of ordinary Camden people seems like the right strategy to protect as many of the social rented units as possible.

You understandably question why this is happening given that the market has undoubtedly risen enormously since 2006 and therefore this can be assumed to increase the profits obtained by Argent from the private housing. Other costs, such as construction costs have also risen significantly in this time, but the point still stands. Unfortunately, this assessment of the wider viability has no impact on the S106 and the council’s negotiating position. The S106 states that the affordable housing as envisaged only has to be delivered if the relevant affordable housing price is reached. This is the price to be paid by a registered provider to take on the affordable housing units. Due to the massive reductions in government subsidy available for social housing there is no housing association able to pay the required sum of £35.4 million. Whereas for Phase 1 at King’s Cross £160k per unit was paid by the GLA, this is now down to £30k per unit. This is the cause of the inability of housing associations to shoulder the cost.

The consequence of this situation is that the ‘cascade’ mechanism would have been triggered as enshrined in the S106, and this could in turn have led to just 74 social units being delivered as described in the report. There is a clear process which is outlined within the S106 in relation to the cascade mechanism and we cannot look at the overall viability including sales prices nor build costs as part of this. Due to when the agreement was signed several years ago, there is also no claw back/overage agreement to obtain greater affordable housing contributions when market changes inflate profits, which is what Camden council adds to S106 agreements in 2015.

I have questioned council officers about what would happen if we simply reiterated demands for the full S106 to be delivered in light of the desperate need for housing in the borough. I was advised again that the affordable housing price and the cascade mechanism are enshrined within the S106. If Argent can’t deliver the full amount of affordable, then the cascade takes effect. So if the council now refused to sign the Deed of Variation, this cascade would be triggered and deliver less of a contribution towards affordable housing than would be achieved pursuant to the Deed of Variation as negotiated. So Argent would be implementing the S106 by delivering the 74 units – i.e. they would not ‘in breach’ of the S106 by exercising this option, and there would be no basis for the council to go to court to seek an injunction to force them to provide more.

I can assure you that I fully appreciate and share the massive concern that exists over the weak position of communities vis a vis developers, and how this is leading to unacceptably low proportions of affordable housing being delivered on many sites in London. This needs a range of new policies at national level to address and my colleagues and I are pushing for them every chance we get. In defence of Argent, it’s clear that they have sought to engage with the council in a reasonable way and haven’t tried to force down the social rented units to what was possible under the S106. Instead we have a situation where despite catastrophic cuts in government support for social housing the sizeable majority of the genuinely affordable units have been saved and we have lost a load of units that weren’t actually affordable anyway. Taking into account all the facts, I think the council’s pragmatic approach to maximising the number of homes that will actually help people on our growing waiting list is the right one.

Best wishes

Councillor Phil Jones

This story is not over.

King’s Cross revisited

February 4th, 2015

This evening I heard a lecture by Peter Bishop who had been head of planning at Camden Council through most of the negotiations on the Argent development scheme.  These are some quick notes to help me remember… and later prepare for some further engagement with him/the topic. Read the rest of this entry »

London First / LEP report on London 2036

January 8th, 2015
London First and the London Enterprise Panel (LEP) have published London 2036: an agenda for jobs and growth. This is a report on the future of the London Economy, substantially prepared by McKinsey and Co for London First. It is their report to the LEP.
Some of us went to the launch of this report last night (Myfanwy Taylor, David Fell, Lucy Rogers and Kristina from the East End Trades Guild). We agreed that we should quickly try to assemble some comments and evaluation.
The report itself is a free download, linked from (7.8mb. There is also a 14mb version – presumably higher-resolution – together with a video and some other stuff which they gave us on USB sticks, 101mb total.)
I just had a quick read and have these (purely personal) comments so far: Read the rest of this entry »

LSE seminar on London housing supply

December 10th, 2014

The trouble with Twitter is it stops me blogging. So for a change here are some notes from a seminar at LSE under HEIF5 today 10 December 2014.  Tony Travers introduction, Nancy Holman summary of how complicated everything is.

[earlier a reminiscence session with Tim Skelton, a retired surveyor who worked for MKDC from 1979 and is writing a book on MK, trying to catch us oldies before we die.  I seem to be one of the few who has memories going back through the whole master planning period.  may add some notes on that.]

Speakers at LSE Cheshire, Tonkiss, Hamnett,Negrini (ex Newham, now Croydon LB) Lammy. Read the rest of this entry »

Peter Hall #3 remembered by Nick Jeffrey

October 21st, 2014

This text arrived on 21 October 2014 from Nick Jeffrey who has agreed to it being posted here. Some observations from the celebration  of Peter Hall on 22 October are on Twitter at #peterhall

Peter Hall was a grand teacher.

I was one of the first dozen of Peter’s planning students and completed the MScEcon (Planning Studies) at LSE. I still teach there as an Associate, leading MSc Planning students, as well as first year Geography and Environment students on fieldwork across Docklands.

That initial course in Regional and Urban Planning Studies was pioneering both within planning education and within the LSE. It was taught jointly with the departments of Geography and Economics (Alan Day) and government (Peter Self). 1967/68 was the first and only full year Peter taught the course.  I understood that the initiative for the course came from Emrys Jones and he recruited Peter Hall to put it together and lead it. Read the rest of this entry »

Peter Hall #2

September 13th, 2014

I was asked to write a piece on Peter Hall for the (now mainly online) journal Planning in London (ePiL).  This is what I sent in.

Professor Sir Peter Hall died at the end of July after a short illness.  As befits one of the heroes and popularisers of planning at a global scale, obituaries have been appearing in a steady stream and more are surely to come.  This memorial note does not seek to run over the ground so ably covered in the best of these, some of which are listed at the end.

This note is simply an appreciation of Peter Hall’s contribution to the planning of London – and probably an incomplete one. Those who can add to the narrative are urged to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

Peter Hall

August 2nd, 2014

Peter Hall died a few days ago and I’m trying here to crystallise my experience of him while it’s in my mind, recording fragments and interpretations which could feed in to any discussion of how we evaluate him, or into any biography anyone writes. Read the rest of this entry »

New London Plan: responses

April 13th, 2014

10 April was the deadline for comments on the new London Plan. The Just Space web site has been active with preparations and now carries (22 and counting) documents submitted by activist groups and individuals.  It’s pretty strong stuff, on the whole, and I hope someone will start summarising it all soon. My interim attempt is on the front page of the JS site now but I hope it will be superseded soon. The main Just Space submission runs to 53 pages and is a very serious and detailed critique, edited together by Richard Lee. Read the rest of this entry »

new London Plan: Assembly Planning Committee

February 26th, 2014

This post is a quick paste-up of material I prepared for yesterday when I was invited to participate as a guest in the Committee’s first consideration of the Further Alterations to the London Plan FALP.  It is not exactly what I said because I wasn’t able to get all the points made, but there will be a webcast and perhaps a transcript later .  Michael Bach from the London Forum was also a guest and he made many very strong and some overlapping points.  I hope he’ll agree to his text going online too. Comprehensive summary in the Twitter stream of Myfanwy Taylor.

The Committee had prepared some questions (shown in bold). Read the rest of this entry »

Winning an award

January 28th, 2014

UCL is giving me a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of its annual awards for “Public Engagement”. The award takes place at 1830h on Tuesday 28th January 2014 when this post should become visible.  They don’t have acceptance speeches at these ceremonies so this is the closest I can get. Read the rest of this entry »