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.

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.