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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.