The mayor of Tower Hamlets has spoken out about a huge £2bn development in Canary Wharf which will see the construction of 3,600 new homes, calling for the developers to dramatically increase the amount of affordable housing in the project.
John Biggs wants the percentage of affordable homes in the new development, referred to as Wood Wharf, – which will also include office space, shops and restaurants – to be increased from a provisional 25 per cent to 40 per cent.
Biggs told EastLondonLines: “In December 2014, when outline planning permission was given to Canary Wharf Group, independent viability consultants confirmed the maximum amount of affordable housing to be 25 per cent.
“However I want that percentage to be nearer 40 per cent and we are reviewing the project with the developer to see what is possible.
“As Mayor I am committed to ensuring we are delivering both affordable and social housing. Tower Hamlets has the fastest growing population in the country, and we built the most affordable homes in the country last year.”
Biggs has a good track record in achieving affordable rents across the borough – in 2017 he approved plans for 1,000 affordable housing developments that saw rent levels split between Tower Hamlets Living Rent and London Affordable Rent.
But locals have questioned whether they would be able to afford a new Wood Wharf property, even if they were affordable.
One resident wrote in reply to a promotional tweet from the developers:
Couldn’t afford to even if I wanted to! 🤷🏻♂️
— Matt Drury (@mattdruryarch) October 9, 2018
The term ‘affordable housing’ has many definitions – in terms of starter homes in new developments it often means buyers on a certain salary can purchase homes at a 20 per cent discount on market rates.
According to National Statistic’s UK House Price Index England the average house price in the London borough of Tower Hamlets in July 2018 was £473,327.
In Canary Wharf however, the prices contrast significantly. So far in October 2018 the average price to buy a two-bed flat in the Canary Wharf area is £758,966, according to Zoopla.com.
When housing developers get planning permission they are normally required by the council to make a certain number of the homes they build officially “affordable”.
According to the NewStatesman.com in 2017 “the number of affordable homes varied across the country but was usually between 30 to 50 per cent and developers will be aware of the requirement before they begin drawing up plans.”
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan recently announced an initiative to aim for half of all new homes built in London being classed as “affordable”.
Wood Wharf plans are being overseen by Canary Wharf Group (CWG), who are expecting to construct 3,600 new homes and bring 20,000 new jobs to the area.
The development will also include a new primary school with places for 420 children and a doctor’s surgery.
Plans cover a five million sq. ft. area that will include two million sq. ft. of office space specifically designed for businesses in the tech and creative sectors.
The CWG is owned by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) – the country’s sovereign wealth fund.
CWG say that by creating more community-based buildings the project will bring an increased sense of community to what is the capital’s leading financial district.
Back in 2014 when provisional planning permissions were approved Tower Hamlets Council described them as ‘innovative’.
Biggs said this week he thought the plans would benefit the area saying: “Wood Wharf will include much needed new public parks as well as new dockside walkways, play facilities, GPs, community and leisure facilities and a primary school.”
Canary Wharf ward Councillor Andrew Wood agreed that the development would have clear positive effects on the community. He said: “It is generating capital for Tower Hamlets Council through providing infrastructure that can be used for community services.”
“For the first time Canary Wharf will see their own residential homes as well as schools and a GP surgery being built which will in turn make it less of a financial district.”
But he raised concerns about the potential accumulative impact on the community, as a population increase in the area would put pressure on the demand for water supply and could also create public transport issues.
He said: “I am not sure how easy it will be for Canary Wharf Group to achieve Mayor Biggs’ new goals of 40% of new homes being affordable. It might be possible if they make the new builds both taller and denser, but the post-Brexit market will make it difficult.”
In April earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics released data stating that the whole borough of Tower Hamlets recorded the steepest decline in house prices out of all London boroughs “with average prices down by almost 8 per cent” which could potentially show that times are changing for the borough.
Sir George Iacobescu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Canary Wharf Group, said: “Canary Wharf Group has reinvented London’s business landscape once, and with Wood Wharf we intend to do so again for the era of fast growth tech and creative businesses…this will be a major investment into London’s infrastructure and a home for the people shaping the future of this great City.”
Wood Wharf is expected to be completed by 2021.