100 Avenue Road: Fury as tower block developers seeks to remove affordable homes
Essential Living wants to make £15 million from the project
Wednesday, 20th January 2021 — By Tom Foot
The controversial tower block scheme in Swiss Cottage
A DEVELOPER behind one of Camden’s most hotly-disputed new building works has triggered fresh anger by asking to remove all ‘affordable’ housing from a skyscraper project in Swiss Cottage.
It emerged this week that Essential Living is trying to significantly amend its planning permission for 184 flats at the former 100 Avenue Road site.
It wants to scrap 36 affordable and intermediate rent units that were due to be run by the Peabody housing association.
Instead, it would provide 18 units – 10 per cent of the overall scheme – at what it calls “discounted” market rent.
The changes follow months of delay as work on the site was halted as the coronavirus crisis escalated last year. Buildings including the old offices of the Hampstead and Highgate Express newspaper have been left demolished.
The project secured planning permission after the government intervened
Essential Living gained planning permission for its initial plans despite written objections from more than 900 people living nearby who say the tower’s height will blight the views.
Camden Council refused to grant planning consent but the government’s then communities secretary Greg Clark later intervened and awarded permission, leading to claims local democracy had counted for nothing.
Even before the coronavirus, the project had been held up after challenges to way spoil would be removed from the site and opposition to the use of lorries in residential roads.
Now Essential Living says building costs have gone up over the past few years and the scheme needs amendments to make it viable.
Councillor Leo Cassarani
But Swiss Cottage councillor Leo Cassarani told the New Journal: “I would say this is completely typical of the developer, and exactly what the community suspected they would try to do. They have turned around at the first sign of trouble and said we’re going to not deliver even the tiny bit of community commitment we originally said we’d do.”
He added: “Discounted market rent is basically just a tiny bit off market rates. This is an application for zero affordable housing. They are not saying we will sacrifice the height of the tower, not saying we will alter the monstrosity. It feels as if they are trying to start a negotiation and low-balling us.”
In a 500-page document lodged with the council this week, Essential Living argues it must “improve the development economics” of its project that has become “unviable”.
The construction costs have risen from £58.3m seven years ago when it first made the application to £108.7million this year, it claims.
Massive charges for holding the site over this time have been incurred following “extraordinary delays” by challenges and appeals since 2014.
Its profit margins have been devastated, leaving the company facing a £6.35million loss overall if it was to build the scheme as previously agreed, the application said, adding that only by removing the affordable homes could the developer hope to make £15million profit.
A replacement home for the Winch Youth Centre, promised as part of the original planning permission, remains in the new proposals.
A second application has been submitted to alter materials and tweak the appearance of the main tower.The huge tower was originally devised to target young professionals renting a home in London and Essential Living previously revamped the tower next to Archway station in neighbouring Islington.
Cllr Luisa Porritt
Outlining some of the details of its case, Essential said: “For the avoidance of doubt a profit of £15.11m is still substantially lower than a normal commercial return. “The applicant cannot dispose of the site as this would waive any opportunity to recover costs to date. In simple terms, no other party can bring forward either the existing consent or the proposed scheme.”
But Liberal Democrat group leader Luisa Porritt – her party’s London mayoral candidate – said: “It’s an insult to residents who engaged with the developer in good faith, despite concerns about the demolition and construction process, for Essential Living to now be seeking to deliver something significantly worse than what was originally proposed.”
Conservative councillor Steve Adams said: “My simple position is that I will object to the change in material application on the grounds of lower quality appearance and the loss of affordable housing in principle.”