Co-living development green-lit by council despite 'rabbit hutch' rooms

Planned co-living development in Chigwell Road

Planned co-living development in Chigwell Road - Credit: NGP Management Ltd

A developer has been granted permission to build a co-living space in South Woodford despite concerns about “substandard, rabbit hutch” rooms. 

Alongside the 45 rooms - each with their own kitchenette and bathroom - the Chigwell Road scheme will feature a large communal space and gym, laundry room and café on the lower floors.

At a meeting of Redbridge Council’s planning committee last Thursday - October 14 - all but two councillors approved the plans.

This approval arrived despite objections being made by 71 residents and councillor Suzanne Nolan (Con, South Woodford).

Among the issues raised was a concern that developer Aslam Patel only promised to pay the council £100,000 towards affordable housing elsewhere. 

In recommending the scheme, lead planning officer Andrew Smith noted that the council has a waning ability to refuse new housing after failing to meet housing targets set by the Mayor of London. 

Redbridge Council built only 59 per cent of its housing target of 1,123 homes for the last three years and, under the new London plan approved in March, that target is now 1,409 a year. 

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As a result, the council is subject to a presumption in favour of sustainable development, meaning planning permission should be granted unless "any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits".

Mr Smith said: “We tried hard to push up the (£100,000), but we want to get a scheme built rather than refuse it… (then) we wouldn’t get housing at all.” 

The committee also heard it has no power to oppose the plan based on the size of the rooms, as there is no legal standard for co-living buildings under the London Plan. 

Speaking on behalf of developer Aslam Patel, who sat behind him, planning agent Julian Sutton warned: “Planning permission should be granted unless clear reasons against – in our view no such reasons exist.” 

He denied the scheme is “exploiting a loophole” to build a large House of Multiple Occupation (HMO), saying the lifestyle is “about community living”. 

Mr Sutton added: “One of the reasons co-living has increased is a change in working practices. 

“It tends to be people, I won’t say millennials, who are already living in Redbridge and might want to live with people with charged interests and shared ideas.” 

However, Cllr Nolan argued the scheme is “essentially an upmarket HMO or hostel”, adding: “I cannot imagine professionals will want to live in these developments with such exceedingly small rooms. 

“South Woodford needs decent affordable housing for families, not substandard rabbit hutches.  

“It is bulky and overbearing, with a neighbourly impact totally out of keeping with the area.” 

The development would necessitate the demolition of existing buildings on the site – which comprises a tyre sales business, a car sales business and a nursery – with a replacement nursery to also be provided.

Barkingside councillor Martin Sachs, who also spoke at the meeting, calculated the building would bring in £25million in rent over 25 years. 

He said: “They should be paying us £1.7m (in affordable housing contribution), are they offering three quarters? A quarter? No, they are offering five and half percent.” 

“I urge the committee to think about whether it's being unfairly short-changed. I know the committee is under pressure due to central government delivery tests, but this is undermining the housing interests of many of our residents who have been stuck on waiting lists.” 

Dissenting committee member Paul Canal (Con, Bridge) said he was “actually embarrassed” it had appeared before the committee. 

Cllr Canal said: “We should not be approving a development of 50 tiny rooms on this site in this area. On planning grounds, I cannot support it and, on moral grounds, I cannot support it.” 

However, Labour member Daniel Morgan-Thomas argued: “All we can achieve by refusing tonight, is at best it being turned down and us losing the appeal. 

“On top of the meagre cost of contributions, it’s not pleasing, it’s not nice for the area, but I think it’s compliant on policy grounds.” 

Opposed resident Rhys Thomas told the committee he was seriously considering a judicial review of the decision, calling it “undemocratic” and a “rubber stamp”.