Monday, March 13, 2017

Update on Tidemill

We commented extensively on the planning application for the redevelopment of the old Tidemill school site last year in February and April. At the end of September it went before the Strategic Planning Committee. The meeting was massively attended by locals objecting to the plans, and five people as well as Cllr Brenda Dacres spoke comprehensively on all the reasons why planning permission should be refused. The committee also found flaws in the proposals (as briefly reported in the Council's minutes) and decided to defer the decision almost unanimously.

Deferral means the plans are put on hold while clarification on, reconsideration of, and justification for the following issues are sought:

1. The impact on neighbouring properties in respect of daylight and boundary treatments

2. How proposed open spaces and communal areas would be run, managed and shared, and in particular, cater for children in the way the former school garden did

3. Why Reginald House was being demolished and the terms of residents' reallocation

4. The lack of affordable housing being achieved.

This pretty much reflected most of the objectors' concerns, if not all of them – for instance, the demolition of the school caretaker's house wasn't mentioned. In our opinion should be saved as a heritage asset and its retention would prevent overshadowing of any kind on Frankham House.

Ducking and diving

Following the deferral, a meeting was set up in November for the objecting group to meet with the developer Sherrygreen Homes and the architects Pollard Thomas Edwards (PTE). PTE were also responsible for the new Tidemill school and Deptford Lounge, including the residential housing in that complex (and would probably be shocked to learn that its residents refer to their building, which was built by Galliard Homes and is run by L&Q, as The Titanic (as it is sinking) and The Leaky Ship (as, like the library which is currently being repaired, the roof leaks).

By this time, the group had the support of GLA Assembly Member for Greenwich & Lewisham, Len Duvall, who chaired the meeting. The group also hoped to organise a 'charrette' that would involve the community in a collaboration with the Council, developer and architects that would enable the latter to take on board existing local residents' views in order to develop new plans. This model has worked in other places, often producing a beneficial result (read 'profitable') result for the developer.

The campaigners' main aim was to retain the wildlife garden and avoid demolition of buildings. The architects had previously revealed that they had originally been invited by Council officers to produce plans showing 0%–100% retention of the school garden (which the Council has since denied) and that they'd support a charrette if asked to by Council officers.

The Council's brief also included demolishing Reginald House. This was in spite of recent investment in the building between 2008–2012 in the form of a new roof, new wiring, new intercom system, new kitchens and bathrooms and new boilers. It had not, however, benefitted from the external works programmed on other Lewisham Homes estates  (including Crossfields) in 2014 via Decent Homes funding. The original plan ten years ago was to demolish the blocks on Giffin Street and Frankham House as well, and when these other buildings were given a reprieve, Reginald House residents were told there were no plans to demolish their block.

In December and January, Sherrygreen submitted new documents and plans to Lewisham. Nothing much had changed, and most deferral questions remained unanswered. The affordable housing quoient had been reduced from 16.2% to 11%, having been corrected to account for the fact that 13 of the 'new' social rents would be transfers from the already existing Reginald Road tenants.

Information was included on how the decision to demolish Reginald House had been made, but there was no evidence provided that 37% of affordable homes had been contracted for the site, and no information to show how the values of shared ownership units had been worked out. Information requested that would show the chronology and quality of communications between the Council and Reginald House residents was posted to the planning portal but 3 pages of a 5 page document detailing the offer to the three leaseholders were missing. Information on how much rent the leaseholders would have to pay in addition to the equity in their previous homes and what their new service charges would be was missing. Service charges could potentially zoom from around £850 pa with the Council to up to the UK average for new-builds of £2.7k per year.

In addition, 5 out of 7 questions put to the Council by a solicitor on behalf of Reginald House residents have still not been answered, and the Planning Officer had still failed to provide any Council records of the previous refurbishment work done on Reginald Road. In addition, no other space in the area could be found for the gardening group to move to.

At the end of February this year, the group met with the council and developers again, with the latter only prepared to discuss how the group could have an input into the design of the public areas in their plan. Most of the meeting was taken up with the landscape architect's presentation of a veritable bouquet of different designs and numerous sketches that incorporated ideas taken from the existing Tidemill wildlife garden but inserted into much smaller spaces. Mature 20 year old trees would be replaced by 2-3 year old trees.

There were no changes to the building plans, so the right of light issues remained for existing residents in Frankham House, Princess Louise House and those on Reginald Road, but there appeared to be a lot more reassurance for Reginald House residents in terms of what they would get in return for having their homes demolished.

Affordable Housing

The campaigners asked for evidence that 37% of affordable homes had been contractually agreed;
partners Sherrygreen and Family Mosaic had been selected on the basis that they would provide 35% affordable units. The actual build that became fully visible in their September application was only 16.2%. The remainder was to be provided via a Section 106 commitment "to use reasonable endeavours to increase affordable homes on this site to 78 units (37%), subject to the availability of grant funding".

Where was this grant funding going to come from? There were no guarantees there would be any. Yet Deptford Councillor Joe Dromey, who is a privileged Mayor & Cabinet member, continued to boast about the 37%, despite being informed of the reality on several occasions. As we've pointed out before, the 16.2% figure included the 13 social housing tenants who would be transferred. Not a real gain in social rents (5), just an abstract gain in new-build social rents (18). This was finally acknowledged by the developer's subsequent Planning Statement submitted in December, in which they admitted the total was actually only 11%, once they'd factored in the 13 homes already socially rented before they were to be demolished and rehoused. *See update July 2017 at the end of this post.

The group also asked for information to show the shared ownership values – because the three leaseholders at Reginald House would only part-own their new homes which would be worth much more at market value. At the February meeting they were told that they could buy in at 25% of the extra value and not have to pay any rent on the rest. If your 2-bed ex-local authority flat is worth £300k and you can move into a £645k flat and pay no extra rent, who's to argue? Fair compensation for putting up with 3 years building works going on around you – a year of noise and dust whilst they build your new home nearby, then when you move in, another two years of noise and dust while they knock down your old home and build the rest of it. The catch is, as mentioned above, a very significant increase in service charges.

Developer profits

In the Viability Report prepared by Urban Delivery for the Council in Sept 2016, market values for the new homes were based on average house sales in the area in August. They had a 1-bed flat priced at £350k and 2-bed at £475k. This is the problem with Viability reports.

Sherrygreen's Tidemill private flats won't be sold at the 'average' prices that include local old ex-local authority properties. These new-builds will go at whatever the market value for new build luxury flats will be in 2-3 years time. Presently, the average new-build 1-bed flat (eg Timberyard, Greenland Place, Anthology and Kent Wharf, excluding 'penthouses') is £430k, a 2-bed is £645.

This is already an increase of 35% on 2-bed and 25% more for 1-beds on the prices quoted in the Viability report the Council is basing its financial dealings on.

When you compare the average prices given with the prices other new-builds are currently achieving, and factor in the number and variety of units (eg 73 x 2-beds, 18 x 3-bed flats, numerous 1-3 bed maisonettes etc) the developer is likely to achieve private sales of £100m if they were selling them this month. But the Council's consultants, Urban Delivery, reckon it'll be around 25% less than that (£78.74m).

UD said "average private sales would need to rise by 13.25% before the scheme would even break even."  Already, based on UD's unrealistic sales figures, the developer has made a 27% profit on private sales, well beyond the 13.25% needed to break even.

Urban Delivery go on to argue that what with Brexit and all, the poor developer is not likely to achieve the averaged out August sales values *bite fingernails*. But not to worry, as they already have a 20% profit built-in to the overall costs to set against the GDV (Gross Development Value).

Also there's a built-in 6% profit on the small amount of affordable housing to set against the overall 'Net Realisation' of £84.38m. This figure is more likely to be £105.64m based on early 2016 prices, about £21m more already.

Developer costs are also estimated at £84.38m (only £44m of those costs are for construction). While construction costs will rise, these are likely to be over-estimated while private sales values are totally undervalued. But any profit to be made on underestimated sales projections is in addition to a guaranteed 26%.

Land values

The Council's viability consultants Urban Delivery (who have helped Southwark Council achieve unbelievably low levels of affordable housing in favour of Lend Lease at the Elephant) look to be biased towards developers in the sale of the land that belongs to us.

Urban Delivery has suggested Lewisham sell the land to Family Mosaic for a total of £13.5m, which is £4.34m per acre (Tidemill is 3.11acres). This is much less than half of the £9.2m per acre that UD say is the lower figure paid on land in the area. It is also much less than Family Mosaic paid for Sun Wharf on the Creekside riverfront in Feb 2015 – they paid £15.5m, but it is only 0.70 acres, less than a quarter of the size of Tidemill. For the developer Bellway Homes to make any money they have to build densely so they plan to build 280 'dwellings' there.

The consultants acknowledge that larger sites in the area with the benefit of residential planning consent (as Tidemill will have) can range between £9.2m – £13.4m per acre. And that "applying this value range to the subject site would indicate a land value of between £28m to £40m", but they conclude that "for the proposed scheme and site density this is unlikely to be achievable in practice" because Tidemill is not a dense site.

If the land was sold at £28m, with only 209 homes spread over 3.11acres, each dwelling would be worth £134k – rather more than the average plot value of £89,500. UD notes that high density developments were averaging £55-£56k per dwelling – tower block units, with no greenery or garden areas, and aside from premium views in some, mostly offering views of other flats. Quite different from and much less desirable than the landscaped low-rise environment envisaged for Tidemill, which also has great transport links, access to shops, bars and facilities. So Tidemill could easily achieve plot values similar to the £89,500 average, and the land sold for £18.7m – a bit more value for money on a publicly owned asset. Nevertheless, UD suggest a plot value for Tidemill of £64,600 per dwelling – which allows for more subsidised housing (a subsidy paid for by us), but greater profit for the developer.

*Update July 2017: The GLA have now agreed to provide the grant funding necessary to meet the affordable housing target. Figures are redacted in the Mayor & Cabinet's decision papers, so it remains to be seen what sort of deal has been struck and whether the viability assessment will be updated when the application reappears before the Strategic Planning Committee in September 2017, a year after deferral. The garden remains under threat.

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