The proposed 25-storey tower block in Somers Town
Published: 15 December, 2016
by SLANEY DEVLIN
A FEW weeks ago, in this paper, John Gulliver called my belief that funding for improvements to Somers Town should come from the nearby King’s Cross Development site “controversial”.
It’s not controversial, Mr Gulliver, it’s Camden planning policy. The Local Development Plan (LDP), dating from 2010, identifies growth areas in our borough, including King’s Cross and Euston.
In between these two is Somers Town, designated an “area of more limited change”. This means that Somers Town is not expected to see major development, itself, but instead will benefit from development in the two growth areas, such as “the provision of open space and other community facilities where there are local deficiencies”.
Camden Council expect major developments to bring benefits to Somers Town of an appropriate nature and scale.
The King’s Cross Development itself is a huge success. The decision to fund up-front the cost of providing its open spaces has meant it has quickly become a popular recreation destination.
The University of the Arts has brought young creative people to the area and there is now a thriving arts scene and events programme.
Camden’s decision to move to the development has seen the construction of swimming pools and a gym below the council offices. New bridges across the canal will improve walking and cycling routes throughout the area. Exciting new retail opportunities will happen. Google’s recent decision to build a £1bn campus on the railway lands has been met with great excitement.
So how has the council done in gaining improvements to Somers Town from Argent’s development at King’s Cross?
Given that King’s Cross is one of the largest redevelopments in London, with over 1,900 new homes, how has it improved overcrowding in our area? The number of affordable homes and homes for social rent in the development was reduced last year to reflect the disappearance of grant funding. It looks as if in the final development there will be 479 homes for social rent and 158 intermediate homes, including 60 pocket homes. That’s just under 33 per cent “affordable”.
Somers Town residents aren’t prioritised for homes in the new development and I’ve yet to hear of any local resident being rehoused there. Needless to say, overcrowding remains a massive issue in our area. A local lettings policy would have improved conditions and can be seen as a missed opportunity.
Last year the decision was also made to cut the provision of nursing, residential, or extra care beds for older people in the development, meaning that those with care needs will continue to be exiled from their community.
Exciting new organisations and businesses are moving into King’s Cross, creating new jobs. Some are being advertised through the Somers Town Jobs Hub, giving local people opportunities. The King’s Cross Construction Skills Centre offers training, apprenticeships and employment advice to people looking to start a career in construction.
Some organisations, such as the University of the Arts, have already started building links with our many primary and secondary schools. Others should follow their example, offering courses, work experience and apprenticeships so that future generations in Somers Town don’t have to join the night-time economy of cleaners, caretakers, and taxi drivers, but can be the innovators and decision-makers. But to be able to access these opportunities, existing Somers Town residents and small businesses need to be able to stay and get a slice of the action. This the vision behind the Somers Town Neighbourhood Plan.
One massive consequence of the King’s Cross success story has been that property and land values have sky-rocketed in Somers Town. Residents receive weekly letters offering promises of ever-increasing rental or sale values for their homes. People are exercising their right to buy. Taking the money and moving on. The community is being destabilised, and is likely to change even faster once Origin tenants gain the right to buy in 2018.
And a cash-strapped council finds itself owning land in Somers Town worth millions. The temptation to sell it off to plug funding gaps is proving irresistible. The planned tower block for Purchese Street Open Space would be 100 per cent private housing. Penthouses for the super-rich. Camden will say they have a duty to maximise their assets but, really, what business has a local council got building penthouses? Isn’t it their duty to provide quality homes for Camden residents, not opportunities for foreign investors to hide their money?
We are told that the population in Somers Town is going to increase by an estimated 47.4 per cent by 2028. How is this extraordinary figure reached? By including the King’s Cross Development within the Somers Town boundary. This population explosion means we have to “future-proof” our schools. New buildings cannot be funded by constructing housing above schools, but instead by building on public open space. So, ironically, the King’s Cross Development may indirectly lead to less open space in Somers Town.
My view is that if the demand for new school places is coming from the growth areas, the growth areas should fund that expansion. This is not controversial, in fact it is written into the Euston Area Plan, adopted only last year: “New housing development in the plan area should contribute towards school places provision. These could fund the expansion of nearby Edith Neville by 1FE if sufficient need exists for additional primary school places in the area arise.”
So how has the council done in gaining improvements to Somers Town? In terms of helping to grow a successful development on our doorstep, very well indeed. In terms of bringing benefits to Somers Town, such as the provision of open space and other community facilities, it looks as if the King’s Cross Development will have a negative impact.
It is not easy living between two growth areas. Construction noise and traffic hit our health and wellbeing. That is why we look to Camden to ensure we are compensated for this upheaval through direct investment into our homes, community facilities and open spaces. It is what was set out in the 2010 LDP, and we expect that plan to be honoured.
• Slaney Devlin chairs Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum
• The Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum is currently crowdfunding for a judicial review of the Central Somers Town CIP planning permission. See: www.crowdjustice.org/case/save-somers-town/