Open letter to Kingston Councillors about St George and TOPO

Dear Councillors

Tonight you will make one of the most important decisions you will ever have to make regarding the future of Kingston and how our townscape will look for the next few decades. Do you want to be the councillors responsible for opening the floodgates to overly dense, poorly designed, unaffordable tower blocks that add nothing in terms of architectural merit or beauty to our historic town? I trust not.

The main reason for saying no to St George’s plans for Eden Quarter should be concern for the people of Kingston who can ill afford to buy these homes if built. There are over 8,000 people on the housing list in Kingston, there are nearly 500 homeless people in Kingston, and the food bank in the town centre gave food parcels to 5,847 people, of whom 2,034 were children, in 2014/15. Will these homes help any of these people? No.

It’s not just the poorest and most vulnerable in our town that these home will be too expensive for. It’s everyone. And St George know this. In their own analysis of affordable housing in the town it found: “Affordability constraints in the borough ensure that accessing the housing ‘ladder’ is difficult. According to the Land Registry the average house price in the borough is £429,296. Whilst the Annual Survey of Hours and Earning (ASHE) 2013 reports that the borough has one of the highest gross median incomes, approximately £36,600 per annum, the average house price is almost 12 times higher.

Earlier this month I met with representatives from different faith groups in Kingston, including Christ Church New Malden, Surrey Islamic Centre, Chapel Street, Kingston Liberal Synagogue and St John’s Kingston Vale, among others. The key issue affecting their communities is the issue of the cost of housing, whether it’s young people feeling hopeless about their chances of moving out of home, middle aged parents worrying about where their children will live and the break up of their wider family, or older people concerned about where they could retire to.

St George’s latest design includes a measly 15% of affordable homes rather than the 50% that RBK states it is committed to in its SPD. For St George to cite viability and factoring in the cost of renovating a listed building are just weasel words, when we know very well that companies like St George look to make a minimum 20% profit on its developments and that in November 2014 the following was introduced by the Government: “a financial credit, equivalent to the existing gross floorspace of any vacant buildings brought back into any lawful use or demolished for re-development, should be deducted from the calculation of any affordable housing contributions sought from relevant development schemes.”

Furthermore, let’s be clear about the extremely healthy state of Berkeley Group (of which St George is a part), as given in their annual report 2015“In terms of performance, Berkeley built and sold 3,355 new homes this year at an average selling price of £575,000. This led to an increase in adjusted pre-tax profits of £454.6 million, an increase of 19.6% compared to last year, and a profit of £85.1 million from the sale of a portfolio of ground rent assets, giving total pre-tax earnings of £539.7 million.”

Do the right thing, put the needs of your community first and set a planning precedence you can be proud of:

  • Demand cheaper homes from the developers;
  • Insist on lower building height to fit our townscape;
  • Expect much better design from the architects. 

I wish I could be at tonight’s meeting, but I have long-standing engagement that I cannot break. However, I know that many Kingston residents will be there tonight, so I am sending this letter both for myself and on behalf of those residents who also cannot make it.

I will leave you with one last thought: I have worked in Canary Wharf and I can tell you that scuttling through dark weather-beaten streets caused by wind tunnels and shade from the towers that inhabit every corner is not an experience our community wants. The towers at Eden Quarter will create just this kind of street scene in Kingston – and if this one is approved – councillors will NEVER be able to say no to another one.

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