How did a chiropody practice end up in control of a key estate development (for just £200k)?
After plans to build a new block of private flats in the shadow of a council estate were approved this week, Sam Ferguson investigates a tangled planning saga which critics fear may have wrecked hopes of new affordable homes
17 July, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson
The development site
A CHIROPIDIST’S which bought the freehold of its site in Newington Green from Islington Council for just £200,000 has now lined up plans for a lucrative tower block development.
The new five-storey building will be constructed on the edge of the Hathersage Court estate and could wreck the Town Hall’s own redevelopment aims.
The case has opened up questions over how cheaply the land was sold off 12 years ago, despite its development potential, and why there is no opportunity to claw back some of the likely profits.
Islington wants to redevelop the estate itself and had set up a plan to fund repairs to existing properties and create 22 new affordable homes with the construction of a private block of homes.
Angel Chiropody, however, held onto the plot and then submitted designs for its own tower of seven flats, which the council said it could not refuse on planning grounds this week because it had approved its own scheme at a similar scale two years ago.
Building consent was granted at a meeting on Tuesday evening.
One critic said the Town Hall had been left “snookered”.
A Tribune investigation has learned Islington had assumed it would be able to buy back the deeds but have seen repeated attempts to do a deal for the site fail.
The sale of private flats on the land could, in theory, bring in millions of pounds for a developer once sold on the housing market.
We repeatedly tried to get comment from the Angel Chiropody this week without getting a response.
Critics have now branded the original sale of the land in 2008 as “short-sighted” and “disgusting”.
Hathersage Court residents who spoke to the Tribune said they had always been reassured that improvements to their estate would not be held up because Islington could use a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to get back the land. This, according to sources, is not now being considered as an option.
The now prized plot next to the Hathersage Court estate
Catherine Ofterberg, chair of the Hathersage Court Tenants and Residents Association, said she hoped the chain of events would not set a precedent for the future.
She said: “The council’s scheme has been many years in the making, and residents went along with it on the basis that the plans, which included a private block on that site, would bring much-needed improvements for the existing estate.
“When the council’s plans were approved, that gave a green light to a private developer to copy the plans, which in effect has snookered the council. When it became clear there was an issue in buying back the land, residents were told the council could use a CPO. But now we’re being told there aren’t any plans to use that power. It seems the council don’t have the energy to take this further.”
Ms Osterberg added: “There should be some kind of public outcry. It’s more of a moral issue than anything else. Is this how we want our council to operate? There will be a loss of affordable housing in this scheme now.”
Morag Gillie, the co-chair of Islington Homes For All, said: “We completely oppose this private development which will not benefit the local community and will not be affordable. There are 14,000 people on the housing register, and they will not benefit from this. Somebody is going to make a lot of money off the back of the complete mismanagement of this site by the council.”
Mildmay Labour councillor Jenny Kay told the Tribune nothing like this should be allowed to happen again, adding: “This whole saga is more evidence – not that any more was needed – of how short-sighted the sale of public land by local authorities is,” she said.
“These prefabricated units were only meant to be temporary but they were sold by the council to the businesses renting them in spite of how close they were to a council block and their obvious development potential.
“Nothing like this should ever be allowed to happen again and I will do all in my power to make sure it doesn’t.”
Council housing chief Labour councillor Diarmaid Ward said: “This property was sold under the previous administration, and we recently tried to acquire it as part of our programme to build more than 550 new council homes in the borough by 2022.
“The council’s planning policy now requires a levy of £50,000 per home on smaller sites, so developers will contribute £350,000 towards the creation of genuinely affordable homes in Islington.”
The Tribune attempted to contact Angel Chiropody multiple times by phone and via emails. We also left an urgent message with reception and used the practice’s online contact form in a further attempt to give the practice the opportunity to give its thoughts.
No response had been received last night (Thursday), but a representative for the practice’s architects told Tuesday’s planning meeting that the applicants “realise sitting on a one storey building in an area like this is an opportunity for greater development,” adding: “We’ve got two applicants who have run a successful business here, who want to continue, and who want to develop their site to do so.
“It will provide a new commercial unit for the client, bespoke to meet their needs, seven new homes on the site, and a specific contribution under Section 106 [planning agreement].”