• Berkeley aces viability game in Paddington Green

Westminster planners have approved the redevelopment of a site in Paddington Green, with housebuilders Berkeley winning permission for a 652 unit scheme that includes a 30 storey tower.
The controversial project won a majority vote from the planning committee, after considering objections around the height and density of the development. On balance, the scheme was considered acceptable, with planners keen to see a long vacant plot brought back into use.
Once again, a planning committee was faced with a viability argument for cutting back on its affordable housing provision, with Westminster planners accepting a 50% shortfall in provision. This despite the applicant, Berkeley, having only purchased the site less than a year ago.
The 2.66 acre site, bounded by Edgware Road, Church Street and Newcastle Place, backs onto Paddington Green and is within the recently designated Edgware Road Housing Zone. It has stood empty for many years, despite a number of previous planning approvals. These include schemes approved in 1989 and 1991 for mixed use schemes including residential, retail and offices. While demolition proceeded, legal agreements ahead of development were never completed.
A later scheme in 1998 was approved to allow for 228 homes and 162 holiday let apartments, in blocks up to 12 floors high. But the developer, Waterfront Finance, was unable to secure an additional property at 283 Edgware Road, which the council required to enable road widening; retailer Sainsburys became involved, wanting to build a major store on the Waterfront site.
In 2000, the council agreed to compulsorily purchase 283 Edgware Road, a block owned by Michael Dean. But the responsibility for the road transferred to Transport for London later that year, and the new authority opted not to continue the road widening plans.
In 2002, Waterfront sold the site to Greek Cypriot Andreas Soteriou, through his West End Green Properties, who outbid Sainsburys.
In 2005, two modified options went before planners, with more homes in 22 and 26 storey blocks, and a similar amount of holiday apartments. Both went to appeal, with the secretary of state approving the smaller project, but declaring the larger scheme inappropriate. The approval was challenged in the courts, initially being quashed but subsequently at a further appeal being reinstated in 2007.
This scheme was, officially, implemented, with the demolition of some properties that required conservation area consent for removal, and the construction of a foundation block in 2010 – meaning the 22 storey scheme permission remains live.
The Berkeley proposal grew the scale of the approved scheme, with a 29 storey, 105 metre tower and seven further mansion blocks, of 19, 11 and 7 floors. In total they would accommodate 652 flats, of which 126 would be affordable. The scheme had been reduced in scale in March, following discussions with planning officers – originally Berkeleys had pitched a further 10 storeys on the tower, with a top floor restaurant and a cinema on the site. As a result of the changes, the number of flats would reduce from 691 to 652.
Planners noted that, in considering the new proposals, “it is reasonable and appropriate to use the extant permission….as the baseline for considering the impact of this development, instead of the existing site. The City Council are not aware of any reason why the extant permission could not be built and the conditions and legal agreement attached to that permission are not unusual or unduly onerous. Accordingly, the applicant could continue to implement that permission and it is a valid fall-back position.”
Westminster’s own tariff suggested a 35% affordable home provision, provided on site. A viability argument delivered by Gerald Eve for Berkeley, and verified for the council by GVA Grimley, declared the 18% proposed to be the maximum the applicant could afford.

LPA Perspective: Once again, a London borough has fallen foul of a developer overpaying and then arguing they cannot afford to deliver the mandated level of affordable housing. That the game has been successfully played by Berkeley Homes, which has long experience in the London market, should not be a surprise.
It beggars belief that Berkeleys cannot afford to provide the council’s affordable homes on this site. The only possible way they could advance a viability argument to chip down the affordable element, is because they overpaid for the site when the company bought it – with existing planning permission – in mid 2015.
That aside, the curious aspect of this site is that it has stood fallow for so long. The tale of Sainsburys, Dean and his “ransom strip” at 283 Edgware Road – which ultimately lost its value as attitudes towards road widening eased – is another tale, told well by the Guardian. Soteriou, who has had planning frustrations along the way, should ultimately have been handsomely rewarded for his efforts, not least in softening up the planning situation – making Berkeley’s arrival and development all the easier.

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