Councillors have reluctantly approved plans for a 14-storey block of flats that will not provide any affordable housing.
Clarendon House in Bridle Path, Watford, will be demolished to make way for the 41 apartments and 1,800 sqm of office space.
But none of the flats will be affordable homes, despite Watford Borough Council’s guidelines advising that 35 per cent (14) should be.
But the head of the planning committee, Liberal Democrat councillor Rabi Martins, said the planning committee members' "hands were tied".
He said they had little choice but to approve the plans because of the Government’s planning viability clause.
If a developer claims its scheme is not commercially viable, it can submit a financial viability assessment. This assessment will consider the total costs of the project – construction, professional fees and profit – and subtract it from the projected revenue from selling the homes. The leftover is called the “residual land value”.
An artist's impression
If this value is not much higher than the building’s current value, the developer can claim to have evidence that the project is not viable if it has to reach an affordable housing target.
Cllr Martins said: “We are not happy with the result and our hands were tied. We could have rejected the plans but it would have been pointless.
“The developers would have just appealed again and no doubt been able to push their plans through, and this would have probably just cost us more money. We had very little choice but to approve it.
“This clause makes it difficult for the council to reject plans.”
Rather than offering affordable housing, the developers, Coda, will instead give the council £358,000.
The plans were initially rejected because Coda only offered £150,000 and Cllr Martins said while they were pleased that this figure had increased, it still “wasn’t good enough”.
But Labour councillor Nigel Bell said he did not agree with the arrangement and abstained from voting.
Cllr Bell said: “While I’m pleased that the development will create jobs in the area, I disagree with the fact that not one flat is affordable housing."
The plans received several online objections with nearby tenants complaining about the impact the development would have on noise, transport, parking and the area's aesthetic.
An artist's impression
A spokesperson on behalf of the Central Town Residents’ Association wrote: “The association registers a strong objection to this application on the grounds of its excessive height, inadequate car parking provision and effect on local transport and residents’ quality of life.
“It will tower substantially above every building in that road and only provides 19 spaces for 41 flats and the large office.
“The access to Station Road is already horrendous, particularly during rush hour, and this development will make this even worse. It will also affect the movement of buses trying to get from the bus station.
“It is an over-development for the capacity and location of the site and the drawings show a very depressing design, dominated by greys and blues.”
Nearby office workers have also registered their objections. Finance director Edward Huxley said he feared that his office will not receive any natural light because of the development, and the noise during construction will disrupt his workers.
He also noted that parking in the area is already an issue and said this will only worsen the problem.
A worker from Designer Group, which is situated in the building opposite, also registered concern about noise and disruption and the impact on traffic and parking.
The deputy managing director for Watford Borough Council, Nick Fenwick, said: “The committee deferred the application at a previous meeting to establish more detail on the lack of viability argument put forward by the developer.
"The council’s consultants proposed that the developer should pay £358,000 towards affordable housing in the borough, which the developer accepted.
"On this basis, and on the fact that the development doubled the employment space and has made it a better site, the committee approved the application.”