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Are fully-affordable towers really the future for London?

Following the recent turning in for planning approval of Ealing’s first 100% affordable residential tower, the Mayor of London has been challenged to open a new era in housebuilding.

Developer Southern Grove is behind ‘55 West’ – which would be Ealing’s tallest building – and claims it is a model of how developers should be meeting Sadiq Khan’s ‘Homes for Londoners’ vision for the creation of new homes in the capital, with a ‘focus on fully-affordable, design-led landmarks that become magnets for regeneration and investment’.

Andrew Southern, chairman of Southern Grove, believes it is ‘decision time’ for planners who face a choice between continuing to pay ‘lip service’ to housing need and actually delivering affordable housing for Londoners in the right places.


The firm says Ealing’s first fully-affordable tower has been made possible because of an extended negotiation with landowners, which led to the use of an innovative combination of contracts that means Southern Grove will never actually own the land outright.

This, it says, cuts the costs associated with developing the site, while its 26-storey height enables Southern Grove and partner Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing Association to ensure every apartment is classed as ‘affordable’ to purchase under London Shared Ownership or subject to London Living Rent.

Southern believes 100% fully affordable towers around key transport nodes are the future, as well as being the way to solve London’s housing issues, but recognises that it will require a renewed appetite for well-designed high rises.

Where is the development?

Once complete, 55 West will stand directly next to West Ealing station, where the new Crossrail/Elizabeth Line will call, and at the junction of Manor Road, Argyle Road and Drayton Green. It aims to offer the kind of premium residential properties built directly on a transport hub that typically features less than 40% affordable housing, while the other homes usually go to the highest bidder.

However, 55 West claims to be different. It says it will open up 149 prime apartments to residents paying either the London Living Rent (around 60% of current market rates) or using London Shared Ownership, a scheme aimed mostly at first-time buyers who can’t afford to buy on the open market by allowing them to part rent, part buy a home, staircasing up to 100% home ownership over time if desired.

Shared Ownership hasn’t been without serious criticism – with some seeing it as costly, restrictive and with leasehold homes that are very difficult to sell on, often with additional costs – but supporters say they are an affordable way for people to get on the ladder for the first time by eradicating the need for a full deposit. There are more than 200,000 Shared Ownership homes in the UK, with various shared ownership schemes operating throughout the country.

With the 55 West development, buyers are promised beautiful roof gardens which overlook west London while, at ground level, a public plaza will be created between the building and the new Crossrail station.

One of two commercial units on the ground floor is expected to be filled by a doctors’ surgery, with direct access to the Crossrail station. Once the line is fully operational (now expected to be between October 2020 and March 2021, significantly behind schedule), it will cut journey times to only 22 minutes to Liverpool Street, 12 minutes to Paddington, 15 minutes to Bond Street and 29 minutes to Canary Wharf. Commuters will also be able to get to Heathrow Terminals in 20 minutes.

The planning application from Southern Grove is expected to go to planning committee for a decision by the end of November 2019.

Southern Grove says developing sites like 55 West with multiple owners can take years and soak up considerable energy and expense, even before they even get to the planning stage. In the case of this particular site, it took two years of tough negotiations with five landowners to reach a point where individual arrangements over each separate property coalesced.

The developer has, in each case, secured a contract to develop the land in partnership with the landowners, once planning permission is secured, with each contract having to be tailored to each seller’s needs with regards to price, timing and existing tenancy agreements. In all cases, landowners have also received a non-refundable deposit.

Despite the difficulties, though, there is one enduring advantage to this form of development. Southern Grove, as the developer, avoids owning land and as a result faces no prospect of holding onto land without building on it, a controversial practice known as land banking.

The 55 West application from Southern Grove follows in the footsteps of recent proposals by another developer, A2Dominion, to build a 25-storey skyscraper at a site 100m to the south, of which only 35% is earmarked as affordable homes.

“We have chosen to begin looking at sites not just from a policy compliant view but with the belief that, given the scale of the problem, provision of affordable homes in design-led properties should be an aspiration rather than a chore,” Southern said.

“So it’s decision time for London. Are we serious about meeting housing need and creating genuinely desirable, affordable homes, or is it just something politicians are going to continue paying lip service to?”

He said, in a city like London, everyone must accept that building higher is the only way to generate the numbers of homes required. “So if we’ve got to do it, let’s do it well.”

Southern added that planners should be looking at ‘a much more long-term horizon’, embracing excellent design and discovering a renewed appetite for ‘buildings that inspire rather than blot the landscape’.

“The Mayor has spelled out that the housing emergency in London means that it is essential that good quality, affordable housing is built in high densities on top of London’s major transport nodes,” Southern continued.

“This development answers that call, and should be the first of many. Affordability is still a huge problem in London, but the fact these apartments are all affordable is a huge win for key workers and households on low incomes.”

He concluded: “The costs and risks associated with structuring deals in these new and innovative ways, to increase the share of affordable housing, is what differentiates us from the big housebuilders who are land banking and stemming the tide of home creation to maximise profit.”

“Planners need to meet those developers who innovate to create the greatest proportion of affordable homes half way.”


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