Anger as developer axes all affordable housing from High Barnet scheme

Developer Moxon One Ltd has told councillors it can no longer provide 35% affordable housing on its scheme just four months after telling them it could, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Designs for the Moxon One development in High Barnet (credit Claridge Architects)
Designs for the Moxon One development in High Barnet (credit Claridge Architects)

Councillors have deferred a decision on whether to approve changes to a high-rise development in High Barnet following the removal of all affordable housing and local anger over the scheme.

Plans for Intec House in Moxon Street were approved in November and comprised 92 homes in buildings up to seven storeys, with 35% allocated as affordable housing, plus 728 square metres of employment space and 36 car parking spaces.

But an amended proposal was debated by planning committee members yesterday (Monday 8th), with applicant Moxon One Ltd hoping to increase the number of homes to 98, while removing all affordable housing.

The site is currently home to a three-storey building, mainly used as office space, with a warehouse to the rear and car parking, plus some green space in the surrounding area.

The neighbouring building, Fortune House, is a two-storey commercial unit which is home to a Howdens Joinery and is set to be demolished and redeveloped into a five-storey residential scheme

Consultation letters for the new Intec House application were sent to 178 neighbouring properties and 105 responses were received, all objecting.

Reasons for local objections include excessive density, height, scale and massing, poor design, the removal of affordable housing, the cumulative impact with the adjacent development Fortune House, and loss of daylight and sunlight to neighbouring properties.

The mix of housing in the proposal is 54 one-bedroom properties, 38 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom.

The planning statement said the proposed scheme could not “viably support the delivery of any affordable housing” and instead the developer offered £75,000 towards affordable housing elsewhere in the borough.

Committee member Danny Rich asked planning agent Jamie Sullivan to elaborate on the reason why the previous scheme could offer 35% affordable housing and the current one could not.

Cllr Rich said: “We of course are not privy to all of these so-called independent viability studies, but maybe you’ll explain to us how this comes about?” 

The agent said the committee was correct to “scrutinise” the decision and said a “perfect storm” of  interest rates, the financial climate, and rising construction costs had caused the decision. 

He said: “It’s that tension in the system that’s led to such dramatic changes in terms of viability, and that [decision] has been scrutinised by two independent consultants employed by the council and our own consultations as well.”

Cllr Rich asked the council’s planning officer Josh McLean, who had presented the proposal, what the “point” was of having the 35% affordable housing policy if it wasn’t being followed.

Josh said it was a consequence of the “economic climate” developers were in and added if the costs came down then the chances of affordable housing “may go up”.

Cllr Rich said: “In November 2023, apparently they [the developers] could afford 35% and by February 2024 they can’t, so by April maybe they can again?”

Following a discussion, committee members took a vote on the scheme which saw three vote in favour and three against. 

Legal officer Jimmy Walsh and planning officer Mark Springthorpe said if committee members refused the scheme they would have to “substantiate” why they disagreed, with Mark arguing the developer had demonstrated why the affordable housing option was not viable and the scheme was therefore “policy compliant”.

He said: “Sorting out whether or not the policy is fit for purpose is a different question for a different day and I would advise it is not a matter to be tested through refusing this application and taking it to appeal.”

Committee member Richard Barnes proposed referring the proposal to the council’s strategic planning committee, which was seconded by committee member Ann Hutton. This decision was then voted through with four in favour and two against.

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