Dear Mr Camp,
I am writing further to my meeting with Ron German and Andy Altman on 2 December 2013 and the recent article in the Financial Times regarding the proposed joint venture (JV) between Stanhope and Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
From your website I see that as a company you pride yourself on corporate social responsibility. I note in particular the section headed ‘responsibility to the community’ which reads: ‘we strive to provide a legacy of socially responsible developments recognising the environmental, social and economic needs of the communities we work in and involve them in developing appropriate and lasting solutions, which create better places for people to live, work and enjoy’
I applaud this approach and therefore ask you, as I asked your colleagues, not to enter the JV on the current terms. I would further advise that, given the JV proposal is likely to be a major issue in the local elections in May 2014, that you await the outcome of these before pursuing your interests further.
The FT article suggests the enabling legislation which allows the JV is to revive ‘councils’ historic housebuilding role’. But that is not the case here. As the article goes on to point out two thirds of the new properties will be for market sale and such schemes do not prioritise need. Hammersmith is one of the areas with the highest housing need due to high prices and the council policy of reducing the number of affordable homes.
What the FT fails to point out, but I assume you know, is the following:
1. The council’s investment in the JV comes in part from its ‘decent neighbourhoods programme’ itself funded from selling valuable council homes that become vacant. Over 200 were sold in the four years to 2012 with £90m raised. A further 80 are being sold at present.
2. The council have kept the 150 flats in the first phase of the JV empty for up to 4 years. All of these will now be demolished and permanently lost as council properties.
3. The ‘low-cost’ third of the new flats will be discount market sale. The discount is often only 20%, but even if it were 50% these would be unaffordable to anyone on even several times average income. The 25% increase in borough property prices in 2013 mean the average price is now £693,000.
The effect of this policy so far is several hundred council homes sold or demolished and not one new one built. Council planning policy does not permit the construction of new social housing except to replace existing stock, but even this concession is generally ignored, as here. Nothing could be further from the return of councils to housebuilding, unless building for the investment market is what the Government intended. Meanwhile, there are thousands of families in overcrowded or unfit housing, both council and private tenants, and hundreds being forced, by benefit cuts or landlords wanting higher rents, to move out of the area.
Using the sale of vital affordable homes to enable the demolition of others and building unaffordable developments in their place is not regeneration, it is social engineering, and no respectable developer should associate themselves with such pernicious, politically-motivated activity.
I am also aware that Stanhope’s planning application for redevelopment of the BBC TV Centre in White City was approved on 19 December. Stanhope has benefited from a recent change of policy by Hammersmith & Fulham, whereby the requirement for 25% of residential developments in the White City Opportunity Area to be replacement homes for council properties on the White City Estate has been dropped.
Huge public opposition to estate demolition schemes, such as that still proposed for West Kensington but dropped for the time being at White City and elsewhere, has made the Council change tactics. Now it appears they prefer the incremental but continual redevelopment of council housing as private estates through the vehicle of the JV. I have no doubt however that this will prove just as unpopular with my constituents.
I would be happy to discuss any of these issues with you further.