A row has erupted after it emerged that new affordable homes for first-time buyers are being sacrificed to help pay for the Crossrail project. Plans for a development (right) in prime Fitzrovia, on a site where advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi is currently based, include only 15 affordable homes out of a total of 55 new properties.
The development is in Camden, where council rules usually insist on half of all new homes being affordable. Instead, it has been revealed, the developer, Derwent London, will pay £1.3 million towards the new east-west rail link in exchange for building fewer first-time homes.
Plans have been drawn up to transform the offices of London’s most famous advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, into the ultimate walk-to-work flats.
Property developers hope to reinvent what has become known as the “Saatchi block” - a prime swathe of land bounded by Charlotte Street, Whitfield Street and Charlotte Mews, in the heart of Fitzrovia.
The agency’s 1960s-built offices will remain standing, but the interlinked buildings around it will be remodelled to provide space for a public square, shops and 55 new one- and two-bedroom flats, 15 of which would be affordable and aimed at first time buyers.
This relatively low level of affordable housing has outraged local residents’ groups and MP Frank Dobson, who are objecting to the proposals.
But Camden Council says since the developers will be forced to make a £1.3m contribution to the Crossrail project as a condition of being granted planning permission, it would not be financially viable for them to offer any more flats for young Londoners on modest incomes.
The design of the scheme, by leading architects Make, has been praised by the Government’s design watchdog, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, which describes it as having the “potential to act as a benchmark” for other schemes involving redevelopment and enlargement of existing city buildings.
However The Charlotte Street Association describes it as a “gross overdevelopment” which will increase the floorspace of the existing buildings by almost 70 per cent and bring “frenetic activity” to a “tranquil” corner of central London. It also calls for a full 50 per cent of the new flats to be affordable.
The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association objects on similar grounds, as does local MP Frank Dobson who accuses the council of failing to stick to its own policy of insisting on 50 per cent affordable homes in new schemes. “The proposal also seems to represent a grotesque overdevelopment of the site,” he added.
Despite the objections the council is expected to approve the plans. A report by council officers concluded that the level of affordable housing proposed is “acceptable”. “This is an excellent regeneration scheme …” it concludes.
As well as the new flats and office space, a public park is included in the design - it has been inspired by New York’s Paley Park, and at 231 sq metres, is around the same size.
The proposals are due to be approved by Camden Council’s development control committee on May 19.