Planning inspector rejects ‘outrageous' appeal by Swiss Cottage tower developer

Essential Living facing £70million deficit over 100 Avenue Road project

Monday, 10th January — By Tom Foot

Swiss Cottage tower Essential Living

The proposed tower block in 100 Avenue Road

A DEVELOPER is facing a £70million deficit after its plan to remove all the affordable housing from a 23-storey tower block was rejected by a planning inspector.

Essential Living had appealed against Camden Council’s rejection of its proposal to amend its planning permission for 100 Avenue Road in Swiss Cottage.

But in the latest chapter in an eight year dispute over the site, Tom Gilbert Wooldridge said he was “not persuaded” by the company’s claims that the project had become financially “unviable”.

Essential had argued that rising construction costs caused by Brexit and Covid meant it was facing huge losses if it was forced to include the 36 affordable housing units in the tower.  

Labour Swiss Cottage Cllr Leo Cassarani said: “I’m not  surprised as what they were asking for was outrageous. I think Camden’s planning officers thought Essential was asking for something that was not going to be granted.

“This sort of tactic, of viability arguments, used to work a lot more. Developers used to come back and say we can’t afford it – but now, in some local authorities, this doesn’t carry such weight. 

“There are some councils leading the way. Islington have done so with the Pentonville site for example, and we have seen the same thing going on in the south of Camden with the Middlesex site.”

He added: “I think what will happen is Essential will now have to dispose of the site. I feel sorry for the residents who have said all along that they would demolish and the walk away. It’s also a terrible situation for the Winch that was promised a brand new building out of the whole thing.”

Even with the affordable housing gone, Essential said it was still facing a deficit of £56million. But it had argued that it could recoup some of the losses by having more flats bringing in private rent. 

Amid hundreds of objections to the scale of the tower back in 2014, the council had originally rejected planning permission for the project as a whole.

The company appealed, and Camden was overruled by the then local government secretary Greg Hands in 2016.

EL then ran into a row over how it would remove spoil from the site as residents complained about the prospect of trucks taking over residential streets. 

The 100 Avenue Road site – the former offices of the Ham & High newspaper – has already been knocked down and residents and council chiefs now fear the prime land will remain a mound of rubble for years as the dispute rumbles on.

The leader of the Lib Dems in Camden Luisa Porritt said:  “This decision vindicates campaigners who have long warned about the risks of this project.
“Essential Living has repeatedly refused to engage with the local community in good faith and address their fundamental concerns.  It’s right this latest egregious attempt by the developer to renege on their affordable housing commitment has been refused.

“It is depressing to think how long the site has been abandoned for already and how much longer it may remain empty.
“Residents desperately need affordable homes and The Winch deserves the bigger and better home it was promised. Our hope now is that someone else might come in and work with our community to deliver the scheme it wants and needs.”

Published on Friday, the planning inspector’s report said: “There have been a number of unforeseen circumstances since the 2016 decision was made, including legal challenges, Brexit, Covid, and the increasing cost of building materials.

“This has inevitably affected the appellant’s finances. The appellant has to date incurred costs of over £30 million in implementing the consented development.”

But he added: “I have not been persuaded that the financial position of the appellant means that the only option is the proposed modification to the agreement.”

He added that “another residential-led scheme could be delivered on this site, particularly given the site’s urban location next to a London underground station”.

He added that he could not agree with Belsize Society that had argued the only “useful purpose” of the development was to provide affordable housing in Camden. 

The inspector added that Essential’s had claimed “a longterm capital commitment from a US state pension fund” would allow the project to “breakeven within an acceptable timeframe”.

Camden Council has been contacted for comment.  

An Essential spokesperson said: “It is in everyone’s interest to see the site developed and making a positive contribution to the local area as soon as possible.

“Our planning application would have allowed that to happen – delivering much-needed new housing in Camden, enhancing the public realm, and providing new space for The Winch community project.

“We are naturally disappointed with the Inspector’s decision and will carefully consider our next steps.”

Council chief Cllr Danny Beales said: “We are delighted that the planning inspector has upheld the council’s decision on 100 Avenue Road. It sends a clear message to developers across the borough that they have to deliver their promises to Camden residents.

“The council will continue to stand up on the side of our residents. We will challenge developers who seek to avoid providing the vital affordable housing our borough needs, which is secured as part of planning permissions.”

 

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