Developers can no longer over-pay for land to wriggle out of their affordable housing commitments

HMP Holloway, London. Image: Getty.

The Labour Councillor and executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington, on a landmark planning decision.

The last prisoners left HMP Holloway in July 2016, as part of the government’s £1.3bn prison building and reform programme. The now empty site is owned by the Ministry of Justice, which has been marketing it for sale since last November – but we’re still waiting (im)patiently for the outcome of this process.

Any application to develop the site must be approved by Islington Council’s planning committee. Thankfully, Islington has some of the toughest planning policies in the country, designed to deliver as much genuinely affordable housing – by that we mean homes for social rent – as possible.

Since we published our planning guidance for the site, many local residents have got in touch to show their support for our approach.  But understandably, many people are also concerned about how we are going to be able to enforce this policy when the Ministry of Justice’s primary aim is clearly to get the maximum possible price for the site.

The good news is that our policy has now been tested in the High Court – and we won.

In April, the High Court considered a case that centres around a planning application for a residential development on the site of the former Territorial Army building on Parkhurst Road, within shouting distance from the former prison that once incarcerated Emily Davison, Constance Markievicz and Oscar Wilde to name but a few.


The first thing to note about Parkhurst Road Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and London Borough of Islington is, as you’ll see from its name, that Islington Council and the Secretary of State are on the same side. To understand why this is, we need to go back a little bit.

When this matter originally went before Islington’s Planning Committee in 2014, the applicant committed to just 16 genuinely affordable homes out of a total of 112, miles away from the Council’s policy of at least 50 per cent. The developer argued that it wasn’t financially viable for it include any further genuinely affordable homes, having paid the Ministry of Defence £13.3mm for the site in 2013. The committee rejected this application, as well as a further application in 2016. 

But it wasn’t just Islington which took issue with the idea that it wasn’t possible to build more genuinely affordable homes because of the excessive sale price. When it then came before the government’s Planning Inspectorate, the developer’s appeal was also dismissed. The Inspector made clear that, when assessing the value of any site, local planning obligations must be a taken into account. So when the developer decided to appeal the Inspector’s decision in the High Court, the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, and the London Borough of Islington, found themselves on the same side.

In a nutshell, the High Court judgment makes clear that developers cannot overpay for land, and then argue that they are not able to meet any of the borough’s genuinely affordable housing requirements because they have overpaid for the land. But the learned judge went even further than this. A postscript to the judgement makes clear that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) should update their guidance so that in the future this kind of dispute can be resolved before it gets anywhere near a courtroom. In particular, future guidance should ensure that developers shouldn’t seek to mitigate high purchase prices by reducing affordable housing numbers.

There are around 18,000 people in need of homes on Islington Council’s Housing Register. Unless the Ministry of Justice can understand the concept of housing justice, then it isn’t really worthy of the name.

Both the Ministry and any potential buyer would do well to heed the lessons of another site that has lay empty for too long – one that can be seen clearly through the windows of the now empty upper floors of Holloway Prison.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington. This article first appeared on the Centre for Crime & Justice Studies blog.

 
 
 
 

Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

Jonn Elledge was the founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.