Blog: 5 August 2019Estate Regeneration - Policy in Practice

Formerly the South Acton Estate, it was one of London’s largest estates. Having been the subject of several localised redevelopments since 2005, in 2013 an Outline Application was consented for the new Acton Gardens Masterplan, involving the phased demolition of 1,695 existing units (the majority of which were in social rented tenure) and their replacement with 2,350 new homes (uplifted to 2,440 following a subsequent amendment). With a view to providing a mixed and balanced community, circa 50% of the 2,440 units proposed were affordable. This ensured the reprovision of the majority of the existing affordable units in accordance with extant policy; through the loss of a degree of social rent units and the introduction of intermediate units.

With an uplift of 745 homes, the proposal’s build out started instantly and quickly evolved into an acclaimed, award-winning scheme. By 2018 1,346 homes had been committed to, when Acton Gardens LLP (a partnership between Countryside Properties and L&Q) appointed Barton Willmore to compile and submit a new Hybrid Outline Application for the as yet undelivered area of the estate.

Utilising the same high-quality urban design principles as the 2013 Consent, this Hybrid Outline Application proposed the demolition of all remaining properties and their replacement with 1,954 units - an uplift of 860 homes (the submission avoided the need for a resident ballot due to the previous established Outline Consent).

Of the 1,954 units proposed, 49% was to be affordable; of which, the Social Rent/shared ownership split was 55/45%. This equated to a net increase in the shared-ownership provision with the Social Rent provision to be retained in accordance with the 2013 Consent baseline. Through the eyes of the GLA however, this was not so much the “retention of the established Social Rent baseline” and more “the Social Rent accommodation lost from the 2013 Consent not being recouped”.

The GLA’s response to this was clear. They would call the Hybrid Outline Application in unless the Social Rent provision proposed was increased to not only re-provide all Social Rent habitable rooms lost through the 2013 Consent, but also those lost since the redevelopment began in 2005. In essence, they were applying this draft policy retrospectively; ignoring the baseline set by an extant permission, calling for a “like for like replacement” of “existing” affordable accommodation when the accommodation in question had long since been demolished.

Negotiations began, and three months later, 841 additional Social Rent habitable rooms were consented for the remaining area of the Masterplan. This nominally reduced the overall units proposed from 1,954 to 1,950 whilst retaining the affordable provision at 49%. However, 81% of this (up from the originally proposed 55%) now comprised Social Rent habitable rooms.

Whilst this was a success story in the eyes of the GLA, one cannot help but be concerned about the retrospective application of the “like-for-like” policy. The “existing Social Rent units” the GLA demanded be re-provided no longer existed, and indeed had not existed for some time.

Some may view this as the Mayor attempting to “claw back” some of the 7,326 social rent homes that had already been consented away as part of the previous administration. However, there is nothing to say this “claw back” will be limited to the timeline of the previous administration or else able to be curtailed by any existing permissions.

In my view this is an issue which needs to be strongly considered by developers now seeking to review existing estate regeneration projects that were consented prior to 2017 (when the Mayor first introduced his Draft London Plan and the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG).  Ultimately it seems, a previous consent can no-longer be considered the baseline when it comes to Social Rent housing. In this instance and, at least until further clarity is offered, it is the Mayor’s prerogative to set his own baseline in order to obtain his own new “success story”.

As a result of this precedent, we all now need to be considering how we re-provide all existing Social Rent floorspace in a viable and deliverable way. What does this mean for the future scale and density of estate regeneration schemes? Surely a requirement for more Social Rent units will inevitably mean a need for more private units to not only cross-fund, but also provide a better balance of mixed communities?

Perhaps therefore this policy change provides an unintended “carrot and stick” approach required for local authorities to genuinely start supporting and encouraging truly optimised brownfield sites. Time will tell.

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Estate Regeneration, London Plan, UK housing, Affordable Housing