Letter with local campaigners - are we being betrayed over Kings Cross housing?

Sian Berry, 18 April 2015, Tags:

I have joined forces with local campaigners to condemn attempts to cut the affordable housing provided at the huge Kings Cross Central development site.

As well as taking part in a protest at the Council offices (which are also based in the development), I have called for the Council not to accept a big cut in affordable housing provision at the site. I have also asked for the documents produced to justify the cut to be released - it is simply implausible that that developer Argent is not making a huge profit elsewhere on the site that should mean affordable housing can still be delivered.

railwaylands protestors

I and other Camden Greens - including barrister and former Green Councillor Alex Goodman shown above - have been involved in campaigning for new social and affordable housing in the Kings Cross Railway Lands since 2004. You can read our previous objections here:

Letter published in the Camden New Journal:

IF Camden Council agree Argent's attempt to reduce the number of affordable homes on King's Cross Central it will be a terrible betrayal of the King's Cross community and of the 29,000 households on Camden's housing waiting list.

The people signing this letter are just a few of those who took part in the long struggle a decade ago which led to the compromises in the planning gain (Section 106) agreement Camden signed with Argent and its development partners. The agreed numbers of social-rented and other "affordable" homes in the plan added up to just 40 per cent, a great disappointment to local people who had fought for the 50 per cent target set by Camden and by the mayor's London Plan.

We were told then that these numbers were the best the council could negotiate without sacrificing other community benefits which it wanted from the development.

Roger Madelin, chief executive of Argent, defended the deal by saying the development had to be economically robust enough to stay viable through more than one property cycle and they were expecting good and bad periods.

When the new coalition government took office in 2010 it decided developers could renegotiate Section 106 agreements if the financial crisis had undermined their viability. But London property values are now well above their pre-crash levels (35 per cent on average for housing). For example, flats on the site advertised for sale this year include a one-bed for £985,000 and two-bed for £1,335,500. Their scheme is now internationally acclaimed as a commercial triumph, with Google as the jewel in their crown.

We understand from the Camden officers' report that Argent could, if their request to reduce their social housing obligations is denied, fall back on a legal device in the original agreement which would enable them to deliver even less, simply because of the change in the government grant regime.

To change the agreement Argent would need to secure Camden's consent and to do that they would need to present an up-to-date viability assessment and satisfy Camden's own experts and councillors that their scheme's viability really is at risk if they honour their obligations.

In the light of recent Information Tribunal decisions such "viability"analyses should be in the public domain. As citizens and voters we want to see the sums. As recently as autumn 2014 Argent's Robert Evans introduced a report by the Centre for London saying proudly: "Argent makes places for people... Our current largest project is the redevelopment of King's Cross, where we are delivering 2,000 new homes; 40 per cent of the residential is classed as affordable in tenure...." It is difficult to see what has altered since then.

Cllr SIAN BERRY (personal capacity)
ANDREW BOSI (Cally Rail Group)
DIANA SHELLEY (Cally Rail Group)
DEL BRENNER (Regent's Network, KXRLG)
ANGELA INGLIS (King's Cross Conservation Area Advisory Committee, KXRLG)