Fire sale: Mayor must end homes ‘payments in lieu’

Thursday, 16th July 2020

Belsize fire station IMG_9321

Belsize Fire Station

BORIS Johnson should be blamed for the closure and sale of Belsize Fire Station, in 2014, while he was Mayor of London.

The now-Prime Minister can also be blamed for the current impasse over building affordable homes on the site.

It was during his tenure at City Hall that changes were made to the London Plan that allowed developers to offer one-off cash payments to councils in exchange for not including low-rent housing in schemes.

Since 2011 councils across the capital have been scooping up these so-called “payments in lieu” (PIL) on an industrial scale.

The PIL calculation – a pitiful £283,000 for two homes in the Belsize Fire Station example – is based on land value.

The more affluent the area, the greater financial offer made to the Town Hall. The offers for cash-strapped councils are too much to resist, meaning fewer affordable homes are being built in affluent areas.

The PIL money is supposed to be used to build the equivalent housing “off-site”, but inevitably the money is invested in poorer areas.

This system can only further serve to entrench class and even racial divides across the capital.

No developer should be able to come back to the table in this way and so it is welcome that Camden councillors unanimously rejected Vulcan Properties’s application on this occasion.

But there has been much scrutiny of the Belsize Fire Station development since its sickening closure.

How many other housing payments of this kind have passed under the radar since then? What real scrutiny by councillors and officers of these applications is being carried out at the Town Hall?

And isn’t it time this sorry system was scrapped by the Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan?

Food poverty

ABJECT food poverty levels in Camden have been exposed by increasing demand for foodbanks. But the lockdown has brought the issue to the fore like never before.

The past three months have also revealed a brighter side to life in London – a revived community spirit and how volunteers are willing to help out with schemes that serve the greater good.

By pooling resources and setting up a system for surplus supermarket food collection, a Camden food co-op could really make a lasting difference.

The council should look carefully at the idea of setting up a Food Poverty Com­mission. It would be leading the way in tackling a very real issue for thousands of residents in Camden.

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