Apex House – who will stand up to Grainger?

This evening, 27th May, the council is holding a Development Management Forum at CoNEL presumably to “consult” with the public over the plans for Apex House.  Some have questioned why the meeting has been arranged with so little publicity.  Others will be only too familiar with the way in which the council likes to keeps its dealings with Grainger under the radar.

Apex House is a three-storey building on the corner of Seven Sisters Road and Tottenham High Road.  Many local residents will know it as South Tottenham Customer Centre.  Many more will just know it as “the housing office”, because this is where you have to come if you are homeless, facing eviction or having trouble paying your rent.

So it is with some irony that the council is planning to evict its own staff and attempt to squeeze them in to Marcus Garvey library, much to the displeasure of current library users, who are worried about the cuts to library provision and study space. And it will be a surprise to everyone if any of the current visitors to Apex House will be able to afford to enter the premises once it’s developed.

Nevertheless, the real mystery about Haringey Council and Apex House is how they were persuaded to back down on their original commitment for Apex House without being required to inform members of their own planning committee.

In November 2008, the council’s planning subcommittee gave the go ahead for a Grainger plan to demolish the buildings at Wards Corner and replace them with a 1980s-style “clone town” and gated housing.  Grainger cried that it would be “unviable” to provide any affordable housing on the site, let alone the council’s target of 50 percent.  Apparently they won’t get into bed with a local authority for anything less than a [CENSORED due to commercial sensitivity] profit margin.

The planning officer (Mark Dorfman, Assistant Director for Planning and Regeneration) reported to the committee at the time, allaying councillors’ fears on the question of affordable housing provision by confirming that:

“There is a separate Development Agreement between the applicant [Grainger plc], and the Council that any development of Apex House would include affordable housing equating to 50% of the habitable rooms on the Wards Corner site.” 

With Grainger planning 197 dwelling units at Wards Corner, that would mean 99 units – give or take half a unit, and depending on the number of habitable rooms.

Anyone who has been following this will know that the council’s 2008 planning decision was the subject of a successful judicial review brought by the Wards Corner Community Coalition.

The Grainger scheme threatened to drastically alter the site, increase rents and provided no affordable housing.  The potential adverse impact was clear. Yet, the council had done no assessment of the impact of the Grainger scheme nor did the planning committee debate the potential impact of the scheme before passing the Grainger application.

As a result, a new plan was submitted and passed by a planning committee in 2011.

However, for this 2011 committee, the planning officer put forward a different story regarding the Apex House site, and its potential for offsetting the lack of affordable housing at Wards Corner:

“The Council has entered into a development agreement with Grainger Trust to redevelop the application site (see section ‘Development Agreement’). Grainger Seven Sisters Ltd are also bound by this agreement. The agreement requires the Council to provide any affordable housing required to be part of the development to be provided offsite with Apex House as a possible location for such provision. Officers are satisfied that due to the expense of developing the site and the associated implications for viability which have been independently confirmed as set out above, the scheme would not be viable if it included affordable housing. Therefore the provision of affordable housing at Apex House and/or another suitable site or sites within the borough is not required.”  [emphasis added]

Later, in the officer’s report, we find out what this Development Agreement set out – particularly in terms of obligations on the Council (and notably not Grainger):

 “Part of the agreement states that all affordable housing referable (whether by public policy or otherwise) to the development is to be discharged by off-site provision procured by and at the cost of the Council or a third party. It also states that the Council will make available its site at Apex House (and/or another suitable site or sites within the Borough) for the provision of all affordable housing referable to the development and will satisfy any requirement to procure affordable housing referable to the development at its own cost so as to enable the Development to be implemented in accordance with the agreement.” [emphasis added]

Self evidently, this represented a fundamental shift from the position taken on the first application. On that occasion, proceeding with the development despite the absence of any affordable housing on site was justified by the Council’s own commitment that it would be provided very nearby. But this change was not highlighted to the planning committee as being a departure from the previous application.

At that 2011 meeting, Councillor Bevan, then the cabinet member for housing, went on to say that:

 “while the Council would want social housing and were generally wary of schemes when it was proposed, it had been independently confirmed by two external bodies that in this case the social housing would not be viable… Social housing was planned for the area, and that the number of social housing units in the area in future would exceed the number of housing units proposed in this application.”

It’s not clear at all whether the type of housing that was being considered was the “affordable” housing provision or the sub-category of “social” housing. (It would certainly be useful to know how much social housing for rent has been built in the South Tottenham area since 2011).  Moreover, the “external bodies” confirming the unviability of social housing were the District Valuation Service and, er, presumably Grainger, seeing as no other external body had submitted any such calculation.

The Sub Committee members were not reminded of the basis on which they had agreed to the first application: the Council’s own commitment to provide affordable housing as a partner to this particular development, nor were they told that commitment had been reneged upon, less still why. Such reasons that were given had to do with the costs of the development to Grainger PLC. Those costs could not represent a rational basis for the Council to decide its commitment should not be honoured.

Now, once again, we have Grainger presenting yet another proposal for the area.  Just a year ago, the plans for Apex House were described as being “up to 21 storeys”.  The proposed building has grown by an extra floor to 22 since then.  Regardless of what happens at tonight’s meeting, how can Tottenham residents ensure that the community’s interests are met, when the Council seems to bend over backwards to accommodate Grainger’s need for profit?

May 27, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: INFORMATION