Labour continue call for transparency on viability

Barnet's Labour councillors have submitted a Freedom of Information request for the viability reports and assessments for all major developments in the borough to be made public following news this week that a Tribunal has directed Greenwich council to publish the full viability reports that resulted in a reduction of affordable homes on the 10,000 home Greenwich Peninsula development.

Labour councillors have been raising concerns over the reduction in the number of affordable homes to be delivered on developments on the West Hendon estate and Beaufort Park in Colindale, and this week lost a vote at the Housing Committee calling for all viability reports to be published in full. The Housing Committee were told that only certain councillors could see viability reports, and only once they had signed a confidentiality agreement. Labour councillors have now referred the issue up to the next Full Council meeting to try and get agreement on the publication of these reports.

The Tribunal decision in the Greenwich case stated that ‘We find it particularly hard to accept that the pricing and other assumptions embedded in a viability appraisal are none of the public’s business.’ The affordable housing contribution in the Greenwich development was reduced by around 500 homes and affordable homes were moved ‘away from the more attractive areas of the site which have river views’ according to the Tribunal decision.

Similarly in the West Hendon estate development the affordable housing contribution has been reduced from replacing all 680 social rented units to just 242 social rented units and 250 homes for 'shared ownership'. These homes would be built around a car park away from the views of the Welsh Harp Reservoir.

The recent Public Inquiry into the West Hendon development learned that the council had given the land to Barratts for nothing. West Hendon Labour councillor, Adam Langleben, has now asked for the council's own valuation of the land to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Tribunal decision in the Greenwich case follows another Tribunal decision which directed Southwark council to publish parts of a viability report into the Heygate development in that borough.

Labour's Housing Spokesperson, Cllr Ross Houston said: "Developers cannot argue that they need to keep viability reports secret when they reduce the community benefit of developments on publicly owned land that has been gifted to them. In the case of West Hendon they are making huge profits from the misery of local people who are being forced out of their homes."

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said: "It is becoming less credible for developers to insist that viability reports cannot be published as more and more Tribunals find that it is in public interest for them to be published.  We really need to arrive at a position where we have complete transparency on developments where public land and public money is involved, and therefore we are continuing our call for Barnet council to publish these viability reports."

Notes:

1. The FOI request from Cllr Moore asks for "copies of all viability reports and independent assessments for all major developments taking place in Barnet."

2. The Member's Item on viability from Cllr Houston which has been referred up to Full Council can be found here: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s20778/Cllr%20Houston%20-%20Viability%20Reports.pdf

3. Details of the Greenwich ruling can be found here: http://m.insidehousing.co.uk/7008115.article?mobilesite=enabled&adfesuccess=1

To contact Cllr Houston: cllr.r.houston@barnet.gov.uk

To contact Cllr Moore: cllr.a.moore@barnet.gov.uk

To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568

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