Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The US supreme court thinks racism is dead. It isn't (Guardian)

Judges gutted an act to protect black voters, saying it was out of date – but there are salient illustrations of their folly, writes Gary Younge. 

2. Miliband is taking his cue from loser Kinnock, not winner Blair (Daily Telegraph)

The Labour leader is doomed to fail because he offers nothing that raises a nation’s hopes, writes Boris Johnson.

3. What's killing Labour? A thousand failures to oppose the cuts (Independent)

The party has not so much missed open goals as fled in the opposite direction, says Owen Jones.

4. By the time HS2 arrives, we’ll no longer need it (Times)

The march of communications means we are gambling £40bn on a project that by 2032 will seem prehistoric, writes Tim Montgomerie.

5. The EU vote: this is a blue referendum (Guardian)

Cameron's meddling will deny us all the chance to vote on the European Union, in spite of cross-party support, says John Mills.

6. The Governor will need the Goldilocks touch (Times)

Carney must harness the goodwill on all sides to keep the economy at the right temperature, says John Redwood.

7. Labour and the unions: battle of Falkirk (Guardian)

Candidate selection can be a fraught business in all parties, even when the process is impeccably democratic, notes a Guardian editorial.

8. Press must withdraw from panto stitch-up (Sun)

What seemed like the chance of a lifetime has turned into a blight on Leveson's seemingly unstoppable climb to the pinnacle of his profession, writes Trevor Kavanagh. 

9. Britain’s problems with a veto on Syria go right back to Yalta (Independent)

It was then that the 'big five' were granted such power, writes Robert Fisk.

10. Obama’s Africa trip is too little, too late (Financial Times)

China-Africa trade is now twice the level of US-Africa trade, writes Edward Luce.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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