‘We need affordable family homes’ say residents in Winson Green. But 4 Labour councillors on the Planning Committee vote with the Tories

The outline planning application from Rochda Ltd is to build 310  flats in five housing blocks from five to seven storeys at Western Business Park, near the Winson Green Metro stop.

But members of the community oppose the plans because they don’t include any affordable homes for families who need them, even though the Council’s supposed policy is that 35% of new homes should be ‘affordable’ – 80% of market price.

The community campaign for ‘affordable’ housing

Ashley Lewis, community worker for Soho Albion Football Club, said: “We have too many houses on rent here and very little for first time buyers or people looking for family homes. In the next few years we will have a new high school opening near these blocks so we need suitable housing for families. They are just looking to make profit out of land that is very scarce as it is. The council is meant to stick to their section 106 policy and make sure that there will be affordable housing in these plans but so far there isn’t any. We are fighting for this to be put right and asking the council to stick to their policies which are in place to prevent bad applications.”

The Rev Dr. Ashley Barker has written an open letter to the developers asking them to change the plans. “We are furious to see that the council have betrayed us like this. At a time when we have over 17,000 homeless people in our city, over 5,000 school children in temporary accommodation and over 13,000 households on our waiting lists, surely our priority should be to ensure that we approve developments which return affordable housing and section 106 receipts?”

Residents launched an online social media campaign #FairHousing4WinsonGreen ahead of the final decision on November 19. A letter addressed to the council’s planning committee has been signed by Winson Green organisations including Winson Green Residents Association, Lodge Road Community Association, Newbigin Community Trust, Seedbeds Learning, among many others. (See Birmingham Mail 18 Nov.)

Four Labour councillors vote against ‘affordable’ housing

But at the Planning Committee meeting 9 of the 13 members voted to approve the application. Only 4 Labour councillors voted against it: Peter Griffiths, Julie Johnson, Zhor Malik and Lou Robson. 4 Labour councillors voted with the Tories FOR the application: Donaldson, Fazal, Miah and Straker-Weld. If they had voted AGAINST the application would have been rejected.

This is what the majority of the Planning Committee accepted:

“6.34. An independent financial viability assessment was undertaken by Lambert Smith Hampton which accepts the position set out by the applicant and concludes that the viability of the proposed development is at best marginal and realistically is considered unviable and unable to sustain any affordable housing or Section 106 contributions.”

How is the profit margin calculated?

This decision raises two key issues. The first is what the basis of the ‘financial viability assessment’ was. In other words, how is ‘profit’ calculated and justified? And why is this ‘‘viability assessment’’ kept secret? Councillor Robson quoted a figure of ‘17.5% benchmark profit margin’. Why can’t the Council insist that that profit margin is at least halved? And what is that figure based on? Does it include the future profits the property owners make from rents and future rising apartment prices?

A precedent for low or no ‘affordable’ in working class areas

The second issue is that the Winson Green decision sets a dangerous precedent. Up to now the Council’s reduction of 35% ‘affordable’ to around 10% and sometimes less has been about the City Centre. We have published several articles on this on BATC. But now the Winson Green decision means we are beginning to see that policy applied to the suburbs, to working class areas where ‘affordable’ housing is even more needed.

So we say to the Labour councillors who voted for this precedent, will they be also voting for little or even no ‘affordable’ housing when new applications apply to their own wards?

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