A2 Dominion variation in planning application for #156WEL— driven by greed, ignoring housing need… and over 1,200 objections from local residents

Milking the cash-cow

After securing planning permission for their original cynical over-development proposal for the land at 156 West End Lane, A2 Dominion have submitted an even more cynical variation to that which was approved in spite of an unprecedented number of objections. You can read Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” detailed objections to the original proposal here.

Statements of community non-involvement

Since the variation was submitted, Camden council has failed to notify any of 1,200 local residents who submitted objections to the original application, many of whom live immediately adjacent to the site.

Similarly, Camden also failed to notify Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” as the primary, vocal and highly active group of local West Hampstead residents that organised against the short-sighted selling off of public assets and the original application.  Not even the customary site notices posted in the vicinity of sites subject to planning applications were to be found either on West End Lane or Lymington Road, the two roads immediately adjacent to and bordering 156 West End Lane.

Instead, a keen-eyed resident spotted a single notice on a lamppost outside the Thameslink station some distance away. It’s almost as if Camden would rather neighbours adjacent to the site remained unaware of the variation proposal in case they were moved to object again to a more heinous scheme than that which was originally proposed.

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” requested that Camden properly post notices in the area. Since then, one notice has appeared outside the site on West End Lane and one near the corner of Crediton Hill and Lymington Road, the latter of which would only be visible to residents walking down Crediton Hill and turning left towards Finchley Road.  The sign is therefore all but invisible to residents on Lymington Road, yet it is the residents of Lymington Road whose homes and gardens back onto the proposed development site.

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” have again requested that Camden planners ensure all site notices are properly posted in the locality, and that the comments period for the variation recommences only from the point at which all notices are actually in place.

We strongly recommend that residents lodge their objections anyway.  Further detail about how to lodge your objections is given at the end of this article.

Upward ‘variation’ in profit, downward variation in meeting housing need

Some of the key changes included in this ‘variation’ are as follows:

  • Nearly 50% more one-bedroom units, with the original 69 one-bed units increasing to 102
  • A 10% increase in total units, from 164 to 180
  • Even more densely packed, with density increased even further in excess of the London Plan maximum
  • Reduction of the originally proposed paltry ‘public open space’ (on what will be private land and therefore not ‘public’ in any meaningful sense of the word)
  • Drastic changes to the internal layouts, windows and balconies  

The main variation to the approved planning application is for a marked increase in one bedroom properties, as well as a 10% increase in the total number of units proposed from 164 to 180.

With one-bedroom units costing the lion’s share of a two-bedroom unit, it’s clear the developer’s primary aim is that of securing an upward ‘variation’ in the amount of profit even if it means a downward variation in meeting actual housing needs in Camden.

A2 Dominion claim to be a social housing provider, yet a mere 11% (down from the original meagre figure of 13%) of this massive development is comprised of family sized units of 3 bedrooms or more and offered at so-called ‘affordable’ rent.

Omitted from the variation proposal was any comparison between the approved number of bedrooms/people units, making it a burdensome task for residents to cross-reference the original application with the variation.  We asked Camden Planners to request this information for us. The results of our request are shown in the table below:

A2 Dominion 156 West End Lane Variations

Camden’s own advice to all developers, whether social housing or private, as outlined in their guidance states:

3.185 Large and small homes are defined as follows: • large homes are homes with 3 bedrooms or more; and • small homes are studio flats, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom homes.

3.188 The greatest requirement in the affordable sector is likely to be for two and three-bedroom homes followed by homes with four bedrooms or more.

3.192 Camden Planning Guidance on housing currently indicates that the Council will aim for at least 50% of social-affordable rented dwellings in each scheme to be large homes, and on the basis of mismatches in the existing stock we expect to retain this aim.

Further Camden guidance states the following:

Camden Planning Guidance

The proposed variation will see the 1-bedroom ‘affordable’ rented units rise to 43% of the total number of units, 2-bedroom comprising 19%, 3-bedroom 31% and 4-bedroom a mere 7%.  Remember that ‘affordable’ in this context means 80% of over-inflated ‘market’ rents.

Instead of the 50% affordable rented being the larger homes required, A2 Dominion proposes just 38%. How can this be acceptable on what was collectively owned public land shortsightedly sold by Camden on the condition that any development provided 50% social housing?

As stated in Camden’s own guidelines above, affordable rented homes, and especially the larger units, should have separate kitchens and living areas. This requirement, again, is totally ignored by this so-called social housing developer. How many families with young children really want cookers in the living room where they cannot be sectioned off from young children? Given the choice, who really wants to lounge in the kitchen?

Already we have two clear pieces of Camden’s guidance completely ignored.  So what other transgressions might we find with the other planning variations?

IH2.16 The Camden Local Plan 2017 indicates in paragraph 3.104 that the Council will generally seek intermediate rented housing rather than other forms such as shared-ownership housing. The Council adopted an Intermediate Housing Strategy on 6 April 2016, which we will take into account when considering proposals involving intermediate housing.

IH2.17 The Council will generally seek intermediate rented housing rather than other forms such as shared-ownership housing. The Intermediate Housing Strategy states that we will seek to ensure that the majority of intermediate housing in each scheme is affordable to households with incomes between £30,000 and £40,000 (as adjusted by wage inflation).

IH2.80 Shared-ownership housing refers to housing where occupiers buy a share (generally 25% to 75% of the value of the home) and pay rent on the remainder. Due to the high market values in Camden and lenders’ deposit requirements, it is now rarely possible to develop homes for shared ownership in Camden that would be affordable to eligible households. The Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG (August 2017) confirms that generally shared ownership is not appropriate where unrestricted market values of a home exceed £600,000. Given these constraints, in most circumstances the Council will not support proposals for shared-ownership housing in Camden.

In light of Camden’s own stated policy to “seek intermediate rented housing rather than other forms such as shared-ownership”, how much of this intermediate rented housing is included by A2 Dominion in this development of 180 units? Precisely zero. Zero units. Zero percent of the “intermediate rented housing” that the council “will generally seek”.

Given Camden’s stated aim of not supporting shared-ownership in Camden (especially given the high housing costs in West Hampstead) how many shared-ownership properties does A2 Dominion propose? Not zero, as it should be but instead 32, nearly 40% of the proposed number of ‘social housing’ units.

Is there any planning policy that Camden will actually insist is observed?

IH2.70 The layout of the development should optimise residential amenity for all tenures, and avoid concentrating affordable housing close to potential sources of disturbance such as service yards, traffic and railways.

On this deeply segregated development, the so-called affordable West block is located on the busy and heavily polluted West End Lane.  Meanwhile, the private East block is situated away from the traffic, overshadowing homes and gardens on Lymington Road and throwing the only small green designated open space on the Lymington Road estate into deep shade most of the year.

Worse yet, the majority of affordable family-sized rented units have bedrooms located to the front of the proposed building, facing West End Lane. Given that these are the family units, and knowing how damaging air pollution from traffic is on young lungs, this is just another shocking indictment of A2 Dominion, Camden planners and the planning committee councillors that gave the green light to the original proposal.

The planning policy farce and A2 Dominion’s dubious claims to being a social housing provider

It’s hard to imagine why Camden council might expend the time, effort and costs of developing policies when it seems that it’s perfectly acceptable for a developer to breach those policies if they can absolve the council of any responsibility for building the genuinely affordable council housing that is required.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, progressive Labour councils are doing things very differently to Camden’s selling-off of public assets.  In Norwich, for example, the council is seeking to meet the need for genuinely affordable housing, at the same time securing rental incomes for the council in perpetuity, through the building of RIBA award-winning, eco-friendly, Passivhaus ultra-low energysustainable, genuine council housing.

Elsewhere, A2 Dominion are doing very nicely thank you from their pretence that they are a provider of ‘social housing’.  In fact, according to their own figures, a meagre 2.7% of the total number of homes they built last year were made available for social rent.

A2Dominion’s turnover increased significantly over the year, rising from £300.7m to £372.2m. This was largely down to a boost in the amount of revenue the housing association received from building homes for market sale, a figure that rose from £45.9m to £99.3m.

Of the 875 new homes completed last year by the association, 354 were for private sale, while 296 were for private rent. The total number also included 113 homes for affordable rent, 24 (2.7%) for social rent and 88 shared ownership properties.

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” have previously highlighted the chequered history of A2 Dominion as a notional housing association, but the residents of Clyde House in Wandsworth are only too well aware what a despicable housing provider A2 Dominion is.

We can only wonder if the shocking conditions at Clyde House are to be replicated in West Hampstead.

If so, it will be thanks to the short-sighted Camden council decision to sell-off another public asset, orchestrated with the approval of Camden planners and councillors serving on the planning committee, that future residents may be subjected to “water-soaked electrics, black mould and severe damp… frequent and prolonged lift breakdowns, which have created particular difficulties for a number of tenants who use wheelchairs”.

Submit your 156 West End Lane objections now

We strongly urge everyone to submit their objections to A2 Dominion’s deeply cynical ‘variation’ as soon as possible to help prevent an already overbearing, overly-dense and damaging proposal becoming drastically worse for everyone except A2 Dominion.

Author: Save West Hampstead, "Stop the Blocks!"

Save West Hampstead, "Stop the Blocks!" is a community campaign fighting Camden Council's plans to sell-off publicly owned land at 156 West End Lane and proposals put forward by A2 Dominion.

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