Affordable housing changes for 100 Avenue Road will test Camden's resolve

100 Avenue Road behind demolition hoardings. Picture: Polly Hancock

100 Avenue Road behind demolition hoardings. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The 100 Avenue Road development has a complicated planning history.

It took a planning inspector and the then-communities secretary years to rubber-stamp the scheme which, if built, will tower over Swiss Cottage. 

Essential Living has committed to building a scheme with a certain number of affordable housing units, reneging on that shouldn't be a threat available to them, or else what is the point of such a long, expensive and contentious planning process?

We appear to be in a no-win situation. Either Camden approves these changes to the scheme, and much-needed affordable housing doesn't materialise, or Camden rejects the changes and a contentious building project that has eaten up money and time for the best part of a decade is left in no man's land (and Swiss Cottage is left looking like no man's land.)

Essential Living has obligations. Affordable housing in places like Swiss Cottage is at a premium. EL shouldn't be let off the hook at the expense of people living in Camden, or people who in the future might not be able to. 


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When construction was paused earlier in the pandemic, Camden's planning chief Cllr Danny Beales said it was a "priority" to protect the community benefits of the scheme, and even said the pause could be  an "opportunity to try and secure an improved scheme". 

100 Avenue Road from above during January 2021.

100 Avenue Road from above during January 2021. - Credit: Edie Raff

Was that optimistic thinking or was it Camden setting out its stall to protect affordable housing in a borough that has become more and more difficult for young families to settle in?

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The fear is that fear of more lengthy legal action will leave the town hall inclined to accept the changes and the lesser scheme for Avenue Road.

The way in which town hall officials handle this case going forward will highlight how brave Camden is, and whether its prepared to stand up to ultimatums from global companies. The council needs to play this one straight. Financial losses for a big company aren't its problem.

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Councillors slam 'outrageous' change of plans for 100 Avenue Road

100 Avenue Road from above during January 2021.

The developer behind the paused tower block scheme at 100 Avenue Road has applied to reduce the amount of affordable housing provided. 

The bid has been heavily criticised by local councillors and campaigners, with Swiss Cottage's Cllr Leo Cassarani (Lab) calling it "simply outrageous". 

Essential Living's (EL) contractors began building the 184-property scheme in early 2019. When the pandemic hit in March 2020 work was paused and its future left unclear.

Now EL is looking to restart work but argues financial conditions - including the pandemic - have made it impossible to fulfil the agreements it made when planning permission was granted.

EL has asked to remove its obligation to build 36 affordable housing units - 28 were to be "intermediate rent" and 8 "affordable rent" - and instead 18 flats which would have had "discounted market rent" for 15 years will do so "in perpetuity".

It still plans to provide the "community facility" which would be used by the Winch community centre.

In a document submitted to Camden Council, EL's agent, Savills, writes that, in the six and a half years since the original viability assessment of the scheme "economic and market conditions have changed markedly and significant additional costs on the development have accrued".

The agent adds: "The situation has been further exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020."

EL is also hoping to change the materials used in the project  and use concrete instead of more expensive Portland stone on the building's exterior. 

It argues spiralling costs mean changes are needed.

Local MP Tulip Siddiq told this newspaper she will be working to oppose the move , while Cllr Cassarani said he hopes town hall officers would reject the application.

Cllr Cassarani (Lab, Swiss Cottage) added: ""They want to get rid of all of [the affordable housing]. The planning application at the moment includes 36 units that were going to be managed by Peabody. That was part of the reason the application was passed."

He said considering the discounted flats as affordable housing was "just branding" and continued: ""Due process must be followed and this application considered on its merits, but my personal view is that if this project cannot be built with the 36 affordable units promised then it shouldn't be built at all."

Cllr Steve Adams (Con, Belsize) - who has a background as an architect - said if the scheme was not viable under the terms it was approved, then "that's a problem for Essential Living, not Camden".

100 Avenue Road

100 Avenue Road - Credit: Edie Raff

Both councillors criticised the plan to change the materials used, with Cllr Cassarani calling it a "downgrade" and Cllr Adams saying it "would be a great pity" and would make the buildings less attractive.

"They clearly want to change it because they've got financial issues," Cllr Adams added. "Frankly if they can't build the building in the material they got approved that's their problem." 

He said he would like to see the council conduct its own viability study to model whether the finances made sense if it were a traditional build-to-sell model instead. 

"Despite the disaster of Covid, property in London has actually increased in value," he said. 

"It's very easy to make a model show  a lack of viability. You drop half a percentage here, a conservative estimate there and before you know it you have proved it financially disastrous." 

Cllr Steve Adams.

Cllr Steve Adams. - Credit: Cllr Steve Adams

Janine Sachs, of the Save Swiss Cottage campaign group, said: "Obviously we are clearly not well pleased. It is bad enough that the project is continuing, but to now change the very basis on which the application was approved in the first place - to drastically reduce the number of  affordable units - it's unacceptable."

As it is a live planning issue which could come before the town hall's planning committee, the council declined to comment directly. 

EL's Development Manager Camilla Lesser said the changes were due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and the new application "reflects the amount of affordable housing we are able to provide". 

She said the applications demonstrated "our commitment to delivering a high-quality development that benefits local people", citing new homes, the space for the Winch, and landscaping work to be completed.

She added: "The principle of the development is established, and it is in everyone’s interest to see the site built out and making a positive contribution to local life as soon as possible.”

READ MORE: 100 Avenue Road tower plan 'paused' say developers

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