A computer-generated image of One the Elephant. Image: Lend Lease
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The London development without a poor door

Because providing affordable housing is too expensive.

Apartment blocks which use “poor doors” to segregate tenants based on their wealth have been hitting the headlines recently on both sides of the Atlantic. But for the developers of one London block of flats, the prospect of letting affordable renters in – even through a separate door – was too much to contemplate.

One the Elephant, a 37-storey building with 284 residential units at the glamorous Elephant & Castle roundabout, was granted planning permission in November 2012, and is currently under construction. The London Borough of Southwark has internal targets which require all new developments in Elephant and Castle to include a minimum of 35 per cent affordable housing.

But in council planning meetings, developers Lend Lease argued that they would be “unable to support the inclusion of affordable housing within the development”. The firm’s reasoning was summed up in a council report as follows:

 A second core would be required to provide separate access, including lifts and circulation areas, to socially rented accommodation within the development.... the cost of construction would increase with the introduction of a further lift, as well as separate access and servicing arrangements.”

In other words, it’d cost too much to segregate the two types of tenant. And, in case you were wondering, they had to have separate entrances, because “not doing so would have significant implications on the values of the private residential properties”.

Luckily for Lend Lease, Southwark council came up with an ingenious solution. Southwark Council’s planning policy states that developments can bypass the 35 per cent affordable housing minimum “in exceptional circumstances” by “making a payment in lieu”: this can be invested in community services or affordable housing elsewhere. So instead of devoting 35 per cent of the development – around 100 units – to affordable housing, the firm could contribute £3.5m to the construction of a community leisure centre next door (it’s expected to cost a total of £20m).

Southwark estimates that, at current build costs of "£100,000 per habitable room at current values", putting up 100 affordable units would set you back around £10m. That’s nearly three times as much as Lend Lease donated to the new leisure centre. By declining to build the affordable housing, the developer seems to have saved itself a packet.  

Darren Johnson, a member of the London Assembly who campaigned against the decision, said by email:

 It's outrageous that the council and the Mayor of London would accept this argument, that the cost of 'poor doors' should mean there will be no flats in the development for ordinary Londoners at all.”

He called on the Mayor to threaten to refuse any such applications, “and strengthen planning policies against segregation”. Fingers crossed. 

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook. 

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.