A minimum affordable housing offer that falls 10-15% short of targets was accepted pending ‘robust’ review, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter
Waltham Forest Council has given the world’s largest hedge fund a big discount on affordable housing in a huge Blackhorse Road property development.
In December, Blackrock Property Fund UK and NEAT Developments won permission to build 1,800 homes and a new industrial space at Uplands Business Park.
Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee agreed the development could go ahead despite the affordable housing offer falling 10-15% short of the council and Mayor of London’s target of at least 35%.
Many of these homes, which are classed as affordable, will be aimed at “intermediate” prices such as discount market rent – usually 80% of local rents – or shared-ownership.
NEAT and its partner Blackrock Property Fund UK – which is managed by $9trillion investment fund Blackrock – claim finances for the scheme are in “deficit” but are insisting on a profit target of £150million on the £851m scheme.
At a briefing with the council’s planning committee in September last year, NEAT’s director of public sector partnerships Brian Reynolds said that a challenge to meeting the 35% target is the “window” for the Mayor’s affordable housing grant funding, which closes in 2026.
The Mayor’s planning department at the Greater London Authority has however voiced “significant concerns” about NEAT and Blackrock’s figures and called the numbers behind their estimate “not realistic or robust”.
In June last year, the Mayor’s officials also warned the scheme does not comply with its planning policies due to the low level of affordable housing and the scale of the towers which are set to reach up to 38 storeys.
Only the first phase of the large development has won full planning permission, with the second phase only in “outline”.
Waltham Forest has agreed that in the second phase the affordable homes deal will either be 20%, split evenly between low-cost and “intermediate”, or 25%, split 30:70 between social rent and intermediate.
Phase one includes a large industrial space and one 119-flat build-to-rent tower that will include 35% of the rooms rented out at discount market rent – about 80% of local rental rates.
On the advice of Waltham Forest’s planning department, the planning committee granted permission on the condition that a series of “robust reviews” to decide whether more affordable homes can be included are carried out during construction and at the detailed planning stage likely to be in 2026-28.
Although exact details of the affordability of buildings in the later phase will need to be approved by a future planning committee, the council has now given overall permission for the plans in principle.
The application will now go before the Mayor, who has a final decision on large planning applications.
Ahsan Khan, the council’s housing lead said: “The plans for the redevelopment of the Uplands Business Park are separated into distinct phases. So far only detailed plans for Phase 1 have been approved, subject to GLA referral, and will deliver 35% affordable housing which is compliant with London Plan policies.
“The proposals for the second phase have not yet progressed beyond the outline planning application. Detailed plans will be fully assessed and considered by the council over the coming years, and if agreed will be subject to robust and detailed viability reviews to help ensure the minimum of 25% affordable housing proposed by the developer can be exceeded, with a target of over 35%. Developments normally rely on grant funding from the GLA to help deliver affordable homes, which is only available at a detailed planning stage.”
An anonymous resident writing in to object to the plans argued that the 1,800 homes should include more social homes to “limit the social cleansing and gentrification too often associated with new builds in Waltham Forest”.
They said: “This is not a solution to the housing crisis but just adds to it for those who are less well off.”
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include a quote from cabinet member for housing Ahsan Khan.