'Taking a firm approach'?Westminster council under fire as £1 billion regeneration of Queensway may include only four 'affordable' homes

The developer has told Westminster council that including any more than seven per cent affordable housing would not be financially viable.

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The much-vaunted £1 billion regeneration of Queensway is shaping up to include almost no “affordable” homes for young Londoners or key workers.

In the latest example of a developer wanting to go against rules requiring affordable homes to be included in multimillion-pound developments, GMS Estates’ plan for an entire block next to Bayswater Tube is awating approval from Westminster council.

The developer is promising to transform a shabby street with new shops, offices, and 58 flats.

The council’s policy is that about a third of all new homes in the borough should be affordable and aimed at beleaguered first-time buyers and squeezed renters at below-market levels. But GMS Estates says that including any affordable homes at all would make its project financially unviable. 

What are the affordable housing rules for developers

Westminster disagrees — but is asking that the developer builds four affordable homes — only about seven per cent of the total. Instead, it wants the company, which is spending £30 million on the project, to pay £282,000 into the council’s affordable housing fund.

GMS Estates says it has agreed to four affordable homes in the development and added that, since the homes will all be rented rather than sold, they will not go to absentee owners.

“With a private rented model we can be certain we will not be faced with the ‘dark flats’ that far too many new developments suffer from, and make a positive contribution to the redevelopment of Queensway.”

However, the level of affordable housing being discussed for this project flies in the face of a recent pledge by Nickie Aiken, leader of the council, to strictly enforce affordable housing quotas in order to stop Westminster becoming a “ghetto of the rich”. 

Westminster council leader, Nickie Aiken, has pledged to stop Westminster becoming a "ghetto of the rich" (JEREMY SELWYN)

Fergus Coleman, head of affordable and private sector housing at Westminster council, pointed out that to comply with council policy 16 or 17 of the flats should be affordable.

John Zamit, chairman of the South East Bayswater Residents’ Association, believes GMS Estates should be forced to include more affordable homes in its project. “They should not be allowed to get away with it,” he said. 

Daniel Astaire, Westminster’s cabinet member for planning, said the council could not comment on the project before the meeting, but added: “The council is committed to delivering 1,850 new affordable homes in Westminster by 2023 … we will be taking a firm approach to ensure developers provide more affordable housing. Our approach will begin to make an impact in the coming months.”

Westminster recently gave Berkeley Homes permission to build 200 new flats at Paddington Green in W2 with only 32 designated affordable, or just 16 per cent of the total. The developer initially offered none at all, saying the scheme, an extension of its West End Gate development, would not be financially viable with cheaper homes.

The GMS Estates project is proposed at a time when massive regeneration is planned for Bayswater, currently a relatively affordable tranche of central London.

Some £50 million of public money is being spent on improving scruffy Queensway, and developer Warrior Group is spearheading a £1 billion revamp of the Whiteleys Shopping Centre. 

Lord Foster has redesigned the landmark building as part of plans to turn the whole area into a high-end shopping destination. Whiteleys will have shops and just over 100 new homes, none of which will be affordable.

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