Fire station developer told to find a way to include affordable housing
Belsize Fire Station was closed down in 2014
17 July, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Belsize Fire Station
A PLAN to remove affordable housing from a private redevelopment of Belsize Fire Station has failed. More than six years after the station was shutdown by Boris Johnson – then the Mayor of London, now the Prime Minister – the building in Lancaster Grove is at the centre of a row over its use.
Vulcan Properties, which now owns the Grade II*-listed building, had applied to remove two one-bedroom affordable homes from its 18-flat overhaul.
The developer said it could not find a “registered provider” willing to run the homes, and instead offered the council a payment in lieu (PIL) of around £283,000.
Council officers had recommended that Camden took the money, but councillors unanimously voted to reject the offer on Thursday night.
The lack of affordable housing so far has rubbed salt into the wounds of campaigners who marched through the streets in a bid to stop the sell-off of the station in the first place.
The New Journal’s Thin Red Line campaign urged a rethink on fire cuts, with reporters even finding themselves chasing Mr Johnson on his bike after our requests to question the mayor were ignored.
The station has remained largely empty since the sale, and with its exact future still now unknown; some have drawn comparisons to the sale of the old Hampstead police station in Rosslyn Hill which has stood unused amid disputes over what to do with it.
At the fire station, the developer can only use five of the private flats until the affordable housing point is resolved, the meeting heard.
The case, and the outcome of a possible appeal, will be closely watched by developers across the industry as councils face requests to renegotiate deals in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and changing market conditions.
The developer’s impression of the fire station revamp
Labour councillor Anna Wright, speaking in an online planning committee meeting on Thursday, said the proposal seemed “entirely disingenuous” as the affordable homes had originally been agreed to as “a sweetener to get the application through”.
She added: “The offer of £283,000 is so glaringly insufficient to serve our objectives. On a point of sheer principle, it’s worth rejecting.”
The developer, who was not represented at the meeting, said in an earlier application that it had contacted 13 registered providers (RPs) asking to run the two homes in its development. All had refused to take on the running of the two homes or had not responded, according to Vulcan.
The private homes are being marketed as part of the Belsize Fire House development with prices ranging up to £4million. Payments in lieu go into a general funding pot which is supposed to be used to pay for low rent homes in Camden – but not specifically in Belsize Park.
During the debate councillors suggested the problem over finding an ‘RP’ was the developers’, not the council’s. One housing association, Innis Housing, walked away after learning of a £95 a week service charge.
Committee chairwoman Labour councillor Heather Johnson said she didn’t think the developers could “cry into their milk”, adding: “The applicants knew all of this when they agreed to provide the housing on the site.”
And Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper said an issues with the building’s heritage were well known. “Unless the applicant has been asleep for 46 years, they would have known it was listed,” he said.
‘Political’ row over deal
CAMDEN’S Conservative group leader said he feared the developer had been given more prospect of overturning the Belsize fire station decision because Labour councillors were getting political over the site’s original sale.
Labour regeneration chief Councillor Danny Beales told an all member meeting on Monday that Vulcan’s offer had been “turned down by Labour councillors on the planning committee and this council has rejected that application.”
Cllr Danny Beales
Councillors of all political allegiances had voted against the deal.
Cllr Beales, who himself sits on the planning committee and voted against Vulcan’s offer, also blamed the case on Boris Johnson, saying “a public asset had been sold on the cheap for private housing.”
Tory group leader Oliver Cooper has called for a review into how Camden negotiates affordable housing through the planning system.
He told Cllr Beales: “I’m afraid some of your obiter remarks making it party political will just mean it’s easier to overturn that decision on appeal losing yet more money.”
Cllr Cooper said the advice to take Vulcan’s payment had suggested the council was not “using all the tools at its disposal” to secure affordable housing.
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