Loss-making Brick by Brick failing to meet its targets for delivering affordable housing. Surprised, you say?
There’s no reason to be surprised, because it was entirely predictable, and across London, in Newham, a very similar in-house house-building scheme is also failing to deliver the kind of housing that the local politicians solemnly promised that it would.
It was being reported last month that Newham Council had admitted that its housing company will not meet the 50 per cent affordable target set by mayor Rokhsana Fiaz (yes, they have an independently elected mayor…) in its next round of development.
In Newham, their public-cash-and-property-transfer-to-private vehicle is called Red Door Ventures, and it was established in 2014 under the previous elected mayor, “Sir” Robin Wales. The kind of scheme beloved of the development industry and architects – Sir Robin was photographed at the launch of the scheme shaking hands with celebrity architect Lord Rogers – the intention then was to use public land and finance to build homes for private sale, and to bank the profits to support the council’s under-pressure finances.
At a December council cabinet meeting (yes, Newham still have these, despite also having a directly elected mayor) a report stated that of 294 homes delivered through Red Door Ventures’ second tranche of its development pipeline, only 38 per cent will be affordable.
The contents of the Newham cabinet report might make familiar reading to any poor souls who have gone to the trouble of wading through the councilspeak reports churned out at Croydon. It said the cost of delivering a new community hub at one of the six schemes “limits the ability” of Red Door Ventures to deliver a higher level of affordable housing. In plainer English, the community hub cost more than they hoped for or budgeted for… Fairfield Halls? New Addington Leisure Centre anyone?
And in the tried and tested civic practice of chucking more public money at their failing schemes, Newham’s cabinet in December approved a £113.1million funding package to support the developments.
It is fair to say that Fiaz is not quite of the same wing of the Labour Party as her predecessor, Wales, and since replacing him she has been attempting to unravel some of the more blatantly Blairite aspects of the borough’s housing policy. Under a Tory austerity government that is wedded to Right To Buy, this is not proving to be straightforward.
Fiaz has pledged to build 1,000 new council-owned social rent homes by 2022 – an unconsidered prospect in Croydon.
But this may sound familiar: RDV is “currently exploring the necessary steps” to set up a subsidiary registered provider of social housing, according to the council cabinet report, in order for it to retain the affordable homes and still comply with grant rules.
And there’s even more parallels for Croydon to consider. The Newham council report noted that the “unexpected recent increase” in Public Works Loan Board rates “has an adverse impact on the profitability of the project for the council”, but long-term annuity rates were still lower than modelled in the council’s viability assessment for the project, meaning it is “still affordable”.
Croydon Council has more than £900million in borrowing from the Treasury’s cheap rates PWLB, £260million of it, at least, having been festooned over the Brick by Brick vanity project.
Fiaz later told the Inside Housing website that it was “erroneous” to suggest RDV will miss its affordable housing target, as the 294 homes are part of a wider delivery programme and insisted the 50 per cent threshold will be hit “on average across the RDV programme”. Such well-practised lines about what appears to be a badly thought-out housing model sound unconvincing whether spouted north or south of the Thames.
“We have stepped up pace as a council to fix a broken system that is failing to deliver the genuinely affordable homes our people in Newham need,” Fiaz said.
“Our commitment to driving forward municipal house building remains resolute. Doing nothing in the face of an acute housing crisis is not an option as the people of Newham need hope that we’ll deliver for them, and we will.”
The 2014 date for the launch of Red Door Ventures in Croydon is significant, since that was the year that Jo Negrini first burst through the revolving doors of Fisher’s Folly, full of bright “new” ideas for the regeneration of Croydon. For the four years before that, Negrini, who is now Croydon’s £220,000 chief executive, had been working as the director of “strategic regeneration, planning and Olympic legacy” for the London Borough of… Newham.
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