Next Thursday Camden’s planning officers will try to persuade councillors to approve plans to redevelop a disused hospital building in Fitzrovia, but without the developer honouring a legal agreement to build the full amount of social rented homes on the site.
UCLH Charity which owns the derelict Middlesex Hospital Annex in Cleveland Street wants the go ahead to partly demolish the former Strand Union Workhouse, build housing and offices, and landscape a former paupers’ graveyard.
But only 36 social housing flats are planned despite a s106 agreement to provide at least 44 social rented homes.
The housing was meant to be provided as part of a planning deal forged between UCLH NHS Foundation Trust and Camden Council in 2005 when a new hospital was built.
Camden had waited rather too patiently for UCLH to come up with a scheme that provided the agreed amount of homes, until the issue was forced into the open at a public meeting about a shortage of affordable housing chaired by local MP Keir Starmer.
Max Neufeld of the Charlotte Street Association questioned why Starmer was looking for more social rented homes in Camden when the council in his own constituency had already secured a deal to deliver a small estate but was dragging its feet in getting them built.
“Camden’s planning department is in disarray — why has this not been resolved?” he inquired.
A puzzled looking Starmer asked whether the then leader of the council Sarah Hayward could provide an explanation as to why UCLH had not built the homes.
Hayward responded saying: “If we enforce that it would be one publicly funded taxpayer institution taking on another publicly funded institution. We are trying not to do that as we don’t want to line the lawyers’ pockets.”
Starmer — an experienced lawyer — said it all sounded like an “interesting dispute” and that he wanted to see “more transparency” in planning decisions.
Since then he’s lost interest and transparency has not been forthcoming.
Instead the planning officers appear to have come to an extra-legal arrangement with UCLH, and a bit of horse-trading has gone on.
The focus of this Camden market haggle has been one part of the s106 agreement which requires 1425 square metres of social housing (about 14 homes) to be built.
“It has since been considered that there is no longer a justifiable reason for the 1425sqm of affordable housing to be provided, as the hospital never benefited from the Odeon permission [on Grafton Way] to which this obligation was specifically related and it was superseded by other health related proposals,” states the planning officers’ 165 page report.
But the lengthy document also notes that in 2013 UCLH submitted two applications to modify the s106 agreement to “remove entirely the requirement for the affordable housing provision”.
Camden quite rightly refused both these applications saying “the requirements continued to serve a useful planning purpose (i.e. there continues to be a need for affordable housing) and no evidence was put forward to demonstrate it was economically unviable to provide the affordable housing”.
However, since then the planning department appears to have given up on policy and legal agreements and instead has split the difference with the applicants and will be asking councillors on the committee if six social rented homes will do instead of 14.
What a way to run local government. I hope Keir Starmer is paying attention. I’m sure he’ll find it interesting.
Planning Committee, Thursday, 6th July, 2017 7.00 pm: Middlesex Hospital Annex, 44 Cleveland Street, London, W1T 4JT.