Unviable, undeliverable and not right: Council Leaders blast Earl’s Court scheme as London Mayor supports ballots for residents

Capco Director Gary Yardley is outgunned as the Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Deputy Leader of Kensington & Chelsea Council join forces to challenge him over the Earl’s Court scheme, while the London Mayor says in future residents should be balloted about demolition plans

LBHF Council Leader Stephen Cowan says the Earl’s Court scheme is “unviable” and “undeliverable”. He has “called on Capco to return the estates to LBHF”

On 29 December 2017, further to the letter he wrote to all residents on 6 November announcing Capco was in talks to hand back the estates, LBHF Leader Stephen Cowan wrote again to residents.

The letter, headed “West Ken and Gibbs Green estates to return to council control – update”, said: “It remains the Council’s opinion that the CLSA scheme, as it stands, is unviable: Capco’s 2016 accounts reported a 20% drop in the scheme’s value, and the costs are known to be very high.”

The Council went further still in a press release dated 18 January 2018: “LBHF views the current agreed scheme as undeliverable and have called on Capco to return the estates to LBHF as this is the only viable way forward.”

Now, neighbouring borough, Kensington & Chelsea, which is the planning authority responsible for the former exhibition centres part of the Earl’s Court site has weighed in.

RBKC Council Deputy Leader Kim Taylor-Smith says the Earl’s Court scheme is “not right”. He told Capco “it is important that our communities take the lead in decisions affecting their neighbourhoods”

On 24 January 2018, replying to a question from Earl’s Court Councillor Linda Wade, the Deputy Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, and Member for Grenfell Recovery, Housing and Property, Councillor Kim Taylor-Smith, told Full Council:

“Following the Grenfell fire, this Council, and its new leadership and I am now focusing on housing that is truly affordable, and social housing, and I want our communities to take the lead in decisions affecting their neighbourhoods.

And let’s be clear, this scheme is incredibly controversial. Businesses have been subject to compulsory purchase orders, and social housing in Hammersmith and Fulham is due to be knocked down and rebuilt. While new homes are being built, only around 10 per cent will be affordable. But at a discount of 20 per cent to market value, affordable housing in London is not truly affordable and none of these homes will be socially rented.

So, understandably, the London Mayor expressed his concerns about this development in his election campaign, but I understand that Councillor Stephen Cowan, the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, is also trying to find a way to pull back from the planning decision taken by his borough. So, in answer to your question as to whether the Council has been in contact with EC Properties or Capco on press speculation on Saudi interest, I want to go a little bit further.

On Monday I wrote to the Chief Executive of EC Properties, parent company Capco, seeking a meeting to consider the site’s future. In my letter I told him that on the 14th of June the facts on the ground changed in Kensington. I stated, and I quote, that it is important that our communities take the lead in decisions affecting their neighbourhoods. So, this Council has initiated a greater focus on social and truly affordable housing, as well as local democracy. I also told him that I want him to explore any opportunities to increase the level of genuinely affordable housing and social housing in the project.

 And I have also written to Councillor Stephen Cowan expressing my concern over this development, and I have offered my complete support to revisit these plans around the entire scheme, and I have copied this letter to the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

We need to recognise that we don’t have the legal power to rescind our decision. The application went through due process and was agreed by both boroughs. But politically, I want to make it very clear that I do not believe the continuation of this development under the current terms is right. And, as a minimum, if this is to continue I want to see more social and more truly affordable housing included in this scheme.”

Meanwhile, on 3 February, London Mayor Sadiq Khan published proposals to require giving residents the vote to decide whether or not they support plans to demolish their homes.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants “to make sure people living on social housing estates are at the heart of any decisions involving demolition”

To enforce his new policy, the Mayor would make his funding for any scheme conditional on a yes vote. Those balloted would include secure tenants, resident leaseholders and freeholders, and any resident who has been on the Council’s housing register for at least one year, irrespective of their current tenure.

The Mayor said: I will use my investment powers in a way they have never been used before, by requiring resident support through a ballot for new plans involving demolition where City Hall funding is involved. I want to make sure people living on social housing estates, who have the greatest interest in their future, are at the heart of any decisions from the outset.”

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