The reason for the low proportion of affordable housing is the developer’s claim that the retirement complex should be classified as use class C2 residential institutional (the same use class as care homes) as it offers an element of care. As C2 the development would not be required to provide affordable housing and would also meet requirement of “social and community” use, which the borough requires for the future use of the site in the Heythrop College SPD (supplementary planning document) from 2016. The only reason there are any affordable flats at all in the development, is the three townhouses by Kensington Square, which are to be sold as very expensive one family homes that aren’t part of the retirement home development and therefore provide affordable housing equivalent to 35% of the habitable space of those three houses.
Although the offered care is very limited and not intended for people with serious illnesses or dementia, the RBKC planning committee accepted the developer’s C2 classification claim when it approved the application in November. The same developer is already building a very similar, but smaller, luxury retirement facility on the site of Thamesbrook, the former RBKC care home at 2 Dovehouse Street in Chelsea, a development approved by RBKC in 2017, which also lacks any affordable housing element, as the developer – as well as the council – used the same C2 argument there.
The mayor’s decision to refuse is hardly surprising, as he and the GLA planners informed the council long before the planning committee approved the scheme that the development wouldn’t comply with the existing London Plan and the draft London Plan as the development’s “specialist older persons accommodation” (the 142 self-contained flats) would be of use class C3 (self-contained single household homes) instead of C2 residential institutional, which only applies to “proper” nursing homes where the accommodation isn’t self-contained.
The developer, Westbourne Capital Partners, has stated it will appeal against the “incredibly disappointing” decision to the housing secretary, James Brokenshire. One of its partners, Johnny Sandelson, said to the Guardian that the scheme would not be commercially viable if it also had to include affordable homes, because that would “disrupt too highly the financial equilibrium”. However, City Hall’s planners question the developer’s viability calculations, saying they were “inadequate” and not in line with national guidance.
Will Pascall, the RBKC councillor in charge of planning, said in a comment to the Guardian: “We are disappointed the mayor would aim to deny vulnerable older people the chance to live in one of the 150 much-needed extra care homes this development would create. We ask the mayor to be reasonable and help older people find a suitable home for themselves in their local area when they retire.”
Jules Pipe ends his refusal letter to RBKC by urging the council “to work with the applicant on a new scheme that optimises affordable housing delivery across the site.”