Pickles backs developer over 'unrealistic' affordable homes requirement

The communities secretary has approved a mixed-use scheme in east London, ruling that the council's expectation for affordable housing provision to be provided by the development was 'unrealistic'.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles
Communities secretary Eric Pickles

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The London Borough of Tower Hamlets had rejected developer Workspace Group’s plans for the redevelopment of the Poplar Business Park to provide a mixed-use scheme including business space and 302 residential units.

At appeal, Tower Hamlets Council claimed that the scheme failed to provide adequate levels of affordable housing, calculated by the council at 30.4 per cent.

The developer had initially claimed that the scheme could only viably deliver 12.5 per cent affordable housing.

Following a public inquiry, inspector Chris Frost recommended that the appeal be allowed and a decision letter issued this week on behalf of Eric Pickles said the secretary of state agreed with this conclusion.

The letter said Pickles considered that it would be "unrealistic to expect the development to deliver an affordable housing provision of 30.4 per cent, as suggested by the council".

Frost’s report said that the developer had offered two options for affordable housing delivery – one at its original 12.5 per cent and a second at 20 per cent. The report said the developer viewed the higher number as "unviable but preferable to a refusal of planning permission".

The decision letter said that whilst neither of these numbers met the council’s requirements, "the secretary of state agrees with the inspector that the provisions of the London Plan do permit flexibility to be applied where a requirement based on the policy aspiration would demonstrably render the scheme as a whole unviable, and thus undeliverable".  

It added: "The secretary of state is satisfied that the development could bear a level in excess of 12.5 per cent affordable housing. Whilst at 20 per cent there would be concerns on your client’s part as to viability, the secretary of state agrees with the inspector that there is no certainty that these concerns are of such an order as to mean that the development would not be delivered in the reasonably foreseeable future.  

"He therefore likewise concludes that there is good reason not to place weight on your client’s obligation to offer 12.5 per cent affordable housing and a sound and reasonable basis to attach weight to that proposing 20 per cent".

Click here to download the decision from Compass Online (subscription service): DCS number 200-000-983

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