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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I worked as a teacher – so I can tell you how regressive grammar schools are

The grammars and "comprehensives" of Kent make for an unequal system. So why does Theresa May consider the county a model for the future?

In 1959 my parents moved me from a Roman Catholic primary school to the junior branch of King Henry VIII, Coventry’s most high-profile grammar. The head teacher berated my mother for betraying the one true faith, but although she was born in Galway, my mum was as relaxed about her religion as she was about her native roots. Any strong feelings about the English Reformation had disappeared around the same time as her Irish accent. Her voice gave no clue to where she was from and – as a result of a wartime commission – the same was true of my father. Together, Mrs and Mr Smith embodied postwar Britain’s first-generation upwardly mobile middle class.

Their aspiration and ambition were so strong that my mother saw no problem in paying for me to attend a Protestant school. Why, you may ask, did my dad, a middle manager and by no means well off, agree to pay the fees? Quite simply, my parents were keen that I pass the eleven-plus.

King Henry VIII School benefited from the direct grant scheme, introduced after the Education Act 1944. In Coventry, the two direct grant schools were centuries old and were paid a fee by the government to educate the fifth or so of boys who passed the eleven-plus. When secondary education in Coventry became comprehensive in the mid-1970s, King Henry VIII went fully independent; today, it charges fees of more than £10,000 per year.

A few years ago, I returned to my old school for a memorial service. As I left, I saw a small group of smartly dressed men in their late seventies. They had strong Coventry accents and intended to “go down the club” after the service. It occurred to me that they represented the small number of working-class lads who, in the years immediately after the Second World War, were lucky enough to pass the eleven-plus and (no doubt with their parents making huge sacrifices) attend “the grammar”. But by the time I moved up to King Henry VIII’s senior school in 1963 there appeared to be no one in my A-stream class from a working-class background.

From the early 1950s, many of the newly affluent middle classes used their financial power to give their children an advantage in terms of selection. My parents paid for a privileged education that placed top importance on preparation for the eleven-plus. In my class, only one boy failed the life-determining test. Today, no less than 13 per cent of entrants to the 163 grammar schools still in the state system are privately educated. No wonder preparatory schools have responded enthusiastically to Theresa May’s plans to reverse the educational orthodoxy of the past five decades.

Nowhere has the rebranding of secondary moderns as “comprehensives” been more shameless than in Kent, where the Conservative-controlled council has zealously protected educational selection. Each secondary modern in east Kent, where I taught in the 1970s, has since been named and renamed in a fruitless attempt to convince students that failing to secure a place at grammar school makes no difference to their educational experience and prospects. That is a hard message to sell to the two-thirds of ten-year-olds who fail the Kent test.

Investment and academy status have transformed the teaching environment, which a generation ago was disgraceful (I recall the lower school of a secondary modern in Canterbury as almost literally Edwardian). Ofsted inspections confirm that teachers in non-grammar schools do an amazing job, against all the odds. Nevertheless, selection reinforces social deprivation and limited aspiration in the poorest parts of the south-east of England, notably Thanet and the north Kent coastline.

A third of children in Thanet live in poverty. According to local sources (including a cross-party report of Kent councillors in 2014), disadvantaged children make up less than 9 per cent of pupils in grammar schools but 30 per cent at secondary moderns. University admissions tutors confirm the low number of applications from areas such as Thanet relative to the UK average. Though many of Kent’s secondary moderns exceed expectations, the county has the most underperforming schools in the UK.

When I began my teaching career, I was appallingly ignorant of the harsh realities of a secondary education for children who are told at the age of 11 that they are failures. Spending the years from seven to 17 at King Henry VIII School had cocooned me. More than 40 years later, I can see how little has changed in Kent – and yet, perversely, the Prime Minister perceives the county’s education system as a model for the future.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times