Charlotte Christie, chairwoman of the Jericho Community Association
Strategic Iconic Assets Heritage Acquisition Fund (SIAHAF) aims to build 13 open-market houses and seven ‘affordable’ flats.
In terms of units, this is only 32 per cent affordable. And even that is flattering. The houses are far larger than the flats. Measured by floor space, the affordable part is 15 per cent. This fails to meet urgent local needs and undermines efforts to maintain our diverse community.
In Jericho 58 per cent of homes are privately rented, and a further 21 per cent are socially rented, of which most are owned by Oxford City Council. Unfortunately, the balance has been shifting.
In recent years the number of socially rented units has fallen substantially. At a Jericho Community Association meeting on July 21, residents rejected SIAHAF’s housing proposal. Moreover our Alive and Kicking group, which runs activities for older residents, pointed out that closing Grantham House, in Cranham Street, had removed sheltered accommodation for over-60s.
That building, also bought by SIAHAF, is being converted to luxury flats with no affordable housing. Alive and Kicking argues that the affordable units should be sheltered housing.
SIAHAF’s proposal clearly fails to meet city council planning requirements, which are that 50 per cent of new housing should be affordable.
Back in 2005, at the time of the previous canalside planning application, this policy was just being introduced. Since then it has been firmly established. In 2011, for example, it was specified in the city’s overall sites and housing plan. In 2013 it was formally endorsed by the independent planning inspector and reiterated in the supplementary planning document for the Jericho canalside site. Now SIAHAF wants to wind the clock back to the early 2000s.
SIAHAF also says it is obliged to build a square and a bridge, contribute land for the community centre and the boatyard and that fulfilling all the city requirements would make the site unviable.
In fact, some of the land for the square is coming from the church and most of that for the community facilities is being provided by the city council or has already been assigned to the Jericho Community Association through a previous covenant with the Canal & River Trust.
In any case, SIAHAF should have been well aware of the requirements when it bought the land, outbidding the Jericho Wharf Trust which had carefully valued the site and was planning to respect local needs and provide 50 per cent affordable housing.
Now SIAHAF claims it cannot afford to match this. Maybe it rashly paid too much for the land. Does it deserve our sympathy if it makes slightly less profit? We don’t think so.
Johnny Sandelson, chief executive of developer Strategic Iconic Assets Heritage Acquisition Fund (SIAHAF)
Ten years ago, Bellway homes unleashed a storm of protest over its plans to turn the Jericho Wharf into a high-density housing complex with no community facilities whatsoever.
Three years later, Spring Residential drew similar howls of derision from the local community for its application to build 54 equally unattractive flats on the derelict site.
Thankfully those protests helped bring about a rejection of both applications by Oxford City Council, which, like us, thinks Jericho deserves better.
Today, we await the decision of our application which we believe stands head and shoulders above anything that has been before.
It has deliberately set out to bring the community right into the heart of the development with a large community centre, a proper boatyard with wet and dry docks, a new bridge across the canal and a mix of private and social housing all connected to a large public square in front of St Barnabas Church.
These plans are not the product of an out-of-touch developer after a quick profit, but have been carefully crafted by one of the top architectural practices in the country after long consultations with the Jericho Wharf Trust, the church, the boating community and many other parties with an interest in Jericho.
Like any development, ours has received its fair share of brickbats and bouquets, but the consensus seems that it is the best scheme to have been put before the planners. Of course, there have been objections, in particular to the sensitive issue of social housing.
Under the SIAHAF scheme, seven of the 22 housing units are classed as affordable which represents 32 per cent of the housing stock.
This, as the objectors point out, falls short of the 50 per cent recommended by the council.
To arrive at 32 per cent we have conducted extensive viability reports into the scheme which have all concluded that the substantial costs involved in developing this complex site, coupled with the generous allocation of public space, means provision of any more affordable housing is commercially unviable.
In total, 63 per cent of the total site area has been designated for public use – effectively meaning than any profit has to come from just 37 per cent of the site.
We have been in contact with the city council and both sides are mindful of Government advice to local authorities, which encourages them to “take a flexible approach in seeking levels of planning obligations and other contributions to ensure that the combined total impact does not make a site unviable”.
Those discussions are still taking place... and we are also exploring the alternative of making a cash contribution for affordable housing on other sites in Oxford.
We are hoping that the planners look at the scheme in its entirety.
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