Harrison Gibson development in Ilford held up in wrangle over affordable homes

The Harrison Gibson building in 2014. Picture: Steve Poston

The Harrison Gibson building in 2014. Picture: Steve Poston - Credit: Archant

Plans to build hundreds of flats on the site of a landmark furniture shop have been sent back to the developer for not providing enough affordable housing.

The Harrison Gibson building in 2018. Picture: LDRS

The Harrison Gibson building in 2018. Picture: LDRS - Credit: Archant

An application to build 290 flats on the Harrison Gibson site in High Road, Ilford, was accepted by the council in March 2019 but Ilford (Jersey) Ltd then applied to add 40 more flats, without increasing the number of affordable homes.

Only 40, or 12 per cent, of the proposed homes are affordable, well below the minimum requirement of 35 per cent specified in the borough’s local plan. When it was first accepted last year, the scheme had 14 per cent affordable housing.

The council’s planning committee chose on July 16 to defer its decision on the application and ask the developer to see if it was possible to add more affordable housing.

READ MORE: Green light given to demolish Harrison Gibson for 30-storey towerCllr Varinder Singh Bola (Lab, Cranbrook) said: “It does not sit comfortably with me that our local plan says 35 per cent but we keep putting through these schemes that are well below that.

“If we can’t get a viable scheme on the most prime land in the most prominent town in our borough then where can we? It’s ridiculous.

“I’m really annoyed our officers are not getting us the best deal possible. No other borough would pass this, why do we get lumbered with these applications?”

He also questioned the developer’s insistence that it planned to break ground by Christmas, arguing that nobody would build in the current climate.

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Other councillors agreed, with Cllr Shamshia Ali (Lab, Cranbrook) worrying the council could be seen as a “soft touch” by developers when it came to affordable housing.

Council officers explained that more units were added, by reducing the size of and rearranging flats, in order to make the scheme financially viable.

Cllr Roy Emmett (Lab, Hainault), standing in for Cllr Kay Flint (Lab, Mayfield), pointed out that the building has already been empty for years and asked what would become of the site if the application was refused.

He asked: “Will it become an eyesore because no developer wants to build on it?”

READ MORE: ‘The biggest blaze in this town’s history’: Remembering the Harrison Gibson fireCllr Paul Canal (Con, Bridge) said the site could be vacant for as long as 20 years if the development did not go ahead, adding: “If we are serious about wanting to regenerate Ilford town centre, one way to do it would be to agree to this development.”

Cllr Gurdial Bhamra (Lab, Clayhall) said he had seen at least three applications for the site in his time as councillor, none of which had materialised, and that the proposal was “an improvement” for the high street.

He also pointed out that the committee approved a tower block with only 11 per cent affordable housing last month.

Opposing councillors were advised by council officer Andrew Swatter that, if change to the application was rejected, the developer had a “more than 50 per cent chance” of successfully appealing as there was “no policy justification” for the rejection.

The application will be discussed again once council officers have spoken to the developer.