Affordable housing, or the lack of it
Planning training last Thursday evening was indeed fascinating, if depressing. The training was about the viability test which helps determine whether the notional 40% of ‘affordable’ housing can be delivered in large new developments. Essentially this is the developer offering a discount on some of the dwellings he builds to offset the excess profits he gets as a result of planning permission being granted. But there are a number of snags. First, a ‘reasonable’ level of profit is not defined in the acts, so naturally a developer will say he needs lots to cover risk and keep his shareholders happy. Secondly, the developer can apparently agree something and appeal the next day. So let’s say he buys some land for £1m, agrees affordable housing with the council and obtains planning permission. The next day he appeals and says ‘aha, the land has residential planning permission and is now worth £2m and given that I need to make reasonable profits, I can’t afford any affordable: what a shame’. Thirdly, the government is busy making the temporary exemption for converting offices to flats permanent. So a landlord on (say) the Great West Road does his sums, thinks blimey, I could get twice as much for these offices as flats, I’ll just serve notice on the current occupiers and get on with doubling my money. Better still, I don’t have to do any affordable stuff or contribute anything to infrastructure and the council has no powers to stop me doing whatever I want – what a wizard wheeze. Anyway, the whole ‘affordable’ thing looks like it’s going out of the window in favour of ‘starter homes’ which anyone can buy. That’s if they can find £450K of course, but I suppose one’s trust fund will deal with that little problem.
So all pretty depressing, with the only upsides being that Hounslow is running ahead of its election pledge to ensure 3000 affordable homes are built during this council’s term, and praise from the (independent) surveyor who took the training for Hounslow’s success in certain cases (e.g. Lionel Road) in agreeing to look again at scheme’ viability at the end of development, with a view to improving affordable provision. Sorry, that’s a bit of a diatribe but it was all new stuff to me and I bet not many people know all this.
Friday was meeting a resident with a complaint against a council employee – not something I can go into here, for obvious reasons. Weekend off, other than my habitual visit to Brentford market on Sunday. This is pleasure rather than work but I often see residents and other councillors there and chat about the town.
I spent most of Monday in the civic centre, meeting various officers (including the IT man who helped me with a few teething troubles) and trying to progress cases, then Labour group in the evening. A very quiet affair because we were mainly just preparing for the appointment of 5 freemen of the Borough on Tuesday, and agreeing to revive a twinning arrangement with Jalandhar in Punjab. The latter provoked a bit of debate but once it was established that it would not cost the borough a penny, concerns mainly disappeared.
So Tuesday was a special Borough Council meeting with very little business other than the Freemen and the twin (does that sound like a crime novel?). Anyway, a couple of hours of mainly amusing speeches about our 4 councillors who have completed 25 years strapped to the Lampton wheel: Raj Bath, John Chatt, Paul Lynch, Bob Whatley and one who has now extricated herself onto the Westminster version – Ruth Cadbury. Each one of these has clearly made a big contribution to the Borough and I truly salute them all. Congratulations also to Bob and Ruth for achieving this distinction without growing a bushy white beard. I think Bob may have had one and shaved it off but Ruth’s chin is unsullied.
Wednesday found me in the Hounslow Youth centre for the Labour party constituency AGM. I seem to have found myself on the premises committee and as the joint auditor. My excitement at this knows no bounds.
Today Thursday I accompanied a council officer on his regular inspection of Coates Walk and part of Netley Road including the sheltered accommodation at Harnage House, which has a lovely garden. He is looking for maintenance issues and anything that might impact on health, safety or the general environment, plus where a stitch in time might save 9. This was my first involvement in this activity and very revealing, helping me to get a sense of how things work around here. I can’t claim to have made a major contribution to his work but I was very pleased with myself when I pointed out a defective extractor fan that he hadn’t noticed. Like I have said before, little things….
Someone has complained to me that I don’t talk so much about the bigger issues facing Brentford in these updates. I hope I’ve gone a little way towards that with the planning discussion but there are 2 or 3 topical things of importance where I’m still either forming an opinion or waiting for better information. I will get to them, I promise.
October 30, 2015