Calls for council to be investigated over Stow

CALLS are mounting for Waltham Forest Council to be investigated after it fast-tracked plans to turn Walthamstow Stadium into a housing estate – preventing the government from stepping in to stop it.

Chingford MP Iain Duncan Smith and Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy both urged residents to write to Mr Pickles, saying he had 21 days to take action before the council formally acknowledged Mr Johnson’s decision and issued final planning permission.

But the council then took the step of quickly issuing the paperwork within 48 hours, leaving Mr Pickles powerless to intervene.

Mr Duncan Smith is among those now calling for Whitehall to investigate the council’s actions and claims that it is biased in favour of the scheme’s developers, housing association London and Quadrant (L&Q).

The council has always strongly denied that it has been anything less than  independent throughout the process.

Click here to read the full story in the Local Guardian newspaper


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2 Responses to Calls for council to be investigated over Stow

  1. Martin Donovan says:

    Its an absolute disgrace that waltham forest council have acted in this way! they have quite literally
    stuck there 2 fingers up at the majority of waltham forest residents! i wonder if there has ever been such speed in approving plans for the average waltham forest resident applying for planning permission to extend his house! I think not! the whole thing stinks of corruption and i urge whitehall to dig deeper and uncover what Save Our Stow and the rest of us have been saying all along!

  2. Junior says:

    The government’s plans on section 106 and affordable housing came under fire from all sides of both houses of parliament this week – and no wonder.

    In the Commons, communities secretary Eric Pickles said the Growth and Infrastructure Bill would cut red tape by allowing the renegotiation of ‘economically unrealistic’ section 106 agreements. ‘In our sights particularly are affordable housing requirements that were negotiated at the height of Labour’s unsustainable housing boom. Now that the Brown bubble has burst, bringing us back to reality with a bump, we recognise that 75,000 homes, with planning permission, are lying unbuilt.’

    Pickles dismissed the argument made by the National Housing Federation that abolition of section 106 agreements would cost 35,000 affordable homes a year as ‘only in the fantasy housing figures’. The truth was that 41 per cent of planning authorities had already started negotiations and dropped their affordable homes targets, he said.

    But how do we know all this? Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes said that nobody wanted stalled sites but he called for much more transparency to check what developers say about viability. ‘Our experience on the south bank is that they say certain things are not economically viable. They then build the housing and flog it off at higher prices that were not revealed at the beginning.’

    Pickles responded that viability would not just be judged on the basis of a developer’s word but would have to be proved to the satisfaction of a planning inspector.

    Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn questioned the focus on affordable housing. ‘If section 106 really was the cause of stalled housing developments, why does the clause focus only on the affordable housing requirements, rather than other section 106 requirements— for example, contributing to transport, other infrastructure or new schools?’

    He went on: ‘Where is the evidence? This will be a familiar theme in this debate. We are told that there are 1,200 sites and 75,000 homes that are stalled. Apparently the figure comes from something called the Glenigan database. When I asked the planning minister if he would publish it so that we could see for ourselves the information on which the statement is based, he refused to do so.’

    Benn argued that the result could actually be further stalling: ‘A developer that hopes to reduce the affordable housing obligation will now have a clear incentive to wait for the Bill to reach the statute book rather than entering into negotiations with the local authority—in other words, delay.’

    Concern about lack of evidence did not just come from Labour MPs. Lib Dem Annette Brooke was also worried: ‘If renegotiation outcomes were in line with local planning policies, I cannot see why a local council would not renegotiate on a voluntary basis. Developers’ profits will rise, but how transparent and independent will the appraisals be of the viability of a development with and without the section 106 obligations?’

    Labour’s Clive Betts, chair of the communities and local government select committee, took up the same theme: ‘Where is the evidence that there is a problem? Local authorities are renegotiating the agreements where appropriate and in line with local circumstances, but why determine the viability of individual schemes in different localities on a national basis? That is simply not acceptable. The danger is that if developers think they will get a better deal by delaying and going to the Planning Inspectorate once the Bill is enacted because fewer affordable homes will be required, the result of the measure will be the opposite of that intended.’

    Tory MP Mark Pawsey, another member of the select committee, said the measure was necessary but he still had concerns. ‘I would like the minister’s reassurance that, when a developer comes forward with a request to renegotiate a section 106 agreement, there will be an evidence base when making a determination. We heard about the issue of developers coming forward looking for a better deal. One concern I have is that that opportunity to come forward for a better deal may prevent some developers from going ahead with an existing section 106 agreement that is eminently deliverable.’

    Over in the Lords, peers were making similar concerns in a debate about planning. Lib Dem peer Lord Shipley highlighted the cross-party call from the Local Government Association for a rethink on section 106. ‘Who will be the judge of viability of a scheme containing affordable homes?’ he asked. ‘Is there evidence that central government knows better than local government? I do not think that the case is proven. There is now evidence to suggest that, when voluntary renegotiation has happened, on average councils are accepting a level of affordable housing around one-third lower than stated in their local plan. If plans in relation to Section 106 renegotiations are continued, a system of independent verification of claims of unviability should be established, possibly through the Homes and Communities Agency.’

    Cross-bencher Lord Best said there are 400,000 homes with planning permission and local authorities are approving 87 per cent of planning applications. ‘It does not sound as if local authorities are putting up unreasonable barriers to housing activity,’ he argued. ‘I think that 75,000 homes are supposedly held up because the Section 106 agreements now look too onerous. The hope on the part of many developers is that, having got their planning consent, they will be able to negotiate down the affordable elements within those sites and therefore obviously increase the profit margins for those developments.

    And Tory peer Lord True, the leader of Richmond council in London, said he supported other government planning changes but was ‘far more cautious’ on section 106 and affordable housing. ‘This is already possible and many local authorities are doing it; some developers engage and some do not. I am not sure that we should reward speculators who are unwilling to play by the rules that other developers accept.’

    Labour’s Lord Mackenzie pressed communities minister Baroness Hanham directly on the issue: ‘Could the minister confirm that the 1,400 sites are all stalled for economic reasons because of affordable housing? Or is it for other reasons as well?’

    Her less than convincing reply was: ‘There are 1,400 sites with 75,000 units on them. It does not necessarily say that they are stalled for any reason. They need to be unlocked to get that housing out but there may be other things that are also tied up with it as well. However, that is the number of units that we know could be built.’

    If that sounds a weak argument for a change in the law, back in the Commons business minister Michael Fallon summed up the debate on the Bill like this: ‘Affordable housing that is stalled for a minimum period of five years is not affordable housing—it is non-existent housing. We already know there are 1,400 sites comprising some 75,000 homes waiting to be unlocked.’

    Except of course that we don’t really know that at all. The source for the claim that there are 1,400 stalled sites and 75,000 stalled homes is research by the construction information firm Glenigan based on its database of planning applications. I can find no details anywhere of how ‘stalled sites’ was defined or the reasons why they stalled. Odder still, I have yet to see a specific example cited of a site that is stalled solely because a local authority refuses to budge on affordable housing (if there was one then you can be sure that ministers would have mentioned it over and over again on Monday) but I have seen plenty of cases where the section 106 has been successfully renegotiated.

    All of which brings us back to the real reasons why those sites are now unviable. There are lots of sites out there where housebuilders paid too much for the land at the peak of the market and/or the scheme as originally planned is uneconomic because of the mix and density. However, any section 106 agreement that is now seen as uneconomic was freely entered into by private housebuilders based on market conditions at the time. In addition, the price they paid for the land will have been lower to reflect the lower development value as a result of this over-burden.

    The consultation paper over the summer proposed forced renegotiation of agreements signed before April 2010 by allowing an appeal on viability grounds to the Planning Inspectorate. However, the Bill goes further and applies to all section 106s that have an affordable housing requirement. Lobbying by housing organisations may have helped to stop the government introducing a complete section 106 holiday and Lib Dem pressure may have secured an extra £300 million of funding to make up for the loss of affordable homes, but the net effect is stil highly favourable to housebuilders.

    Even if you justify all of this on the pragmatic grounds that the country needs homes to be built, then surely any renegotiation must recognise the potential windfall gain being made by the companies and their shareholders rather than simply hand them all the best cards and bail them out from their own poor commercial decisions.

    The Growth and Infrastructure Bill duly received its second reading in the Commons on Monday but the doubts about this change in policy and the breathtaking lack of evidence for it are not going away.

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