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Life in a parallel universe

A parallel universe, also known as an alternate universe, parallel world, parallel dimension, or alternate reality, is a hypothetical self-contained plane of existence, co-existing with one's own. 



Last year the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames was voted the happiest place to live in the UK by the property listing company Rightmove. Rightmove's Happy at Home Index is compiled from a survey of residents in areas across the country based on 13 “happiness factors.” The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said “I’m delighted for Richmond to win this award. It has so much of what makes London so special – its access to beautiful green spaces, its real sense of community, and an array of shops, cafes and local culture that makes it stand out.”



So are people flocking to live in Richmond? Well, like most places across London there is pent-up demand for housing, but in Richmond’s case, the council is actively working to keep people out. Less than one month after winning the happiness award, Richmond – via its planning committee - voted to approve a regeneration scheme – the largest in the borough – which seeks to add 1024 new homes to the area – but with only 6% of these affordable.


The regeneration of the Stag Brewery in Mortlake is fast becoming legendary in London’s planning history as the council and the Mayor of London play ping-pong over its approval and ultimate development. I’ve written about this process here and here. It’s exhausting. But this time, the stakes are much higher.


As time goes on (and its’ been a very long time – the site was purchased in 2015), the contrast between the Stag Brewery regeneration and other major regeneration schemes across London is striking. It’s almost like we’re living in, well, a parallel universe.



This week the Secretary of State for Housing pledged to build “tens of thousands of new homes”. Why? Because if we don’t, young people will abandon democracy, according to SoS Michael Gove. How? By releasing restrictions on developing unused brownfield sites in our cities. “We need to ensure that we have a pipeline of new homes. And that's why we're taking action this week. We already have been in preceding months to increase the supply particularly in our cities where the demand is greatest”, he said.



But as reported in today’s Guardian, construction of affordable homes in London is grinding to a halt. In a letter to the SoS, the G15, a group representing Largest largest housing associations, revealed that its members are on track to start building just 1,769 homes in the capital this year, a fall of 76% compared with the 7,363 started in 2022-23


On May 2 London votes for its next four-year mayor. The incumbent and projected winner has a lot say about building new homes and even more about building affordable ones. How will he demonstrate his commitment to building affordable homes for Londoners in the wake of these recent events?


Encouragingly, several of the largest brownfield regeneration schemes across London are genuinely trying to provide affordable homes.  At Brent Cross, Related Argent are working in partnership with London Borough of Barnet and delivering 20% affordable housing in the first phase of Brent Cross New Town.  A Barnet councillor said


 “Housing affordability has been our top priority in relation to place-shaping and planning, I think it’s fair to say that and making sure it’s sustainable, those are two key priorities.

“One of the good things about this is it’s a joint partnership, we are hoping that as this goes on we will be able to get more and more affordable housing built into it; it will be a priority where we can, to deliver more affordable housing.”




At Earls Court, the Earls Court Development Company, a joint venture of TfL and Delancey, will be seeking approval of their master plan in the next few months from two London local authorities – Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham.


Its master plan provides for 35% affordable homes, and its master planning and development process has involved local community organisations through a range of educational and cultural initiatives that have helped planners to understand the local community’s needs and aspirations.



But several miles west of Earls Court, in my neck of the woods of SW London, we live in a parallel universe, where a brownfield site in a beautiful riverside location cannot be developed into a place providing affordable homes for its residents or indeed those attracted to a life in the UK’s “happiest place”. Even with a deep-pocketed landowner publicly “dedicated and committed to ESGand a one-party local authority (Richmond has 49 Liberal Democrat councillors and 5 Green), the best they can do is 6%.


There has been no statements on commitments to achieve affordability, as we see in Brent Cross. No health and wellbeing initiatives as we see in Barking Riverside, and no investment in local community engagement as we see at Earls Court.



The Mayor of London must set an example formal of London on the proposed regeneration of the Stag Brewery in Mortlake, and decline its approval.



Because if an overseas developer who has done nothing for the local community and refuses to build affordable homes gets away with it, others will follow. And then we’ll all be living in a parallel universe.




Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

16 February 2024


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