Developer looks to renege on parking promise for Romford apartment block after six-year wait

A developer that converted a Romford office block into flats is trying to renege on its promise to provide parking after failing to do so for six years.

Havering Council granted permission for the conversion of Hexagon House in Mercury Gardens – now Verve Apartments – in 2015, with a condition there should be 60 parking spaces provided.

After residents went years without the promised parking, developer Smith Homes Ltd has applied to reduce this requirement to just 27 spaces.

The council expects the adjoining land, which was originally intended to be the remaining 33 spaces, will be used for more housing, although no planning application has been submitted yet.

At a meeting last night, members of the strategic planning committee argued allowing the change would set a “dangerous precedent” and questioned why the council had done nothing to enforce the condition for so many years.

Committee member Graham Williamson said: “This is a massive loophole and a dangerous precedent. If this application had come before us from scratch, I would agree to it but we can’t accept this.

“Tenants have already moved in on the basis there would be parking spaces so they have been mis-sold their agreements.

“Why have we [the council] sat on our hands for six years? This should never have been allowed, it should have been sorted out after a year or so.

“I blame the council totally, we have let down the residents. This will happen everywhere if [developers] can get away with it.”

Councillors were particularly concerned by a clause in the flats’ original leases that prohibited residents from objecting to future planning applications for the site submitted by Smith Homes.

While the developer eventually agreed to remove this prior to the meeting, Cllr Williamson argued it was “shocking” and proved they were “up to no good from the very beginning”.

Fellow committee member Keith Darvill agreed, adding: “It’s not just unreasonable, it’s unlawful.”

Ray Best, one of the committee’s Conservative members, echoed the sentiments of his cross-party colleagues, arguing the council “needs to make a stand against this”.

He said: “We know what [the developer] wants to do, they obviously want to build on the site next door but they could still do that […] and keep the 60 spaces.

“I do feel there’s other ways they could have approached this and still retained the goodwill of the residents and everybody else.”

However, council officers, who had recommended the committee agree to the reduction, argued the developer’s failure to provide the parking was not a good reason to refuse.

Assistant director of planning Helen Oakerbee told councillors to separate their concerns about “resident experience” from the planning merits of the application, particularly given the current London Plan suggests town centre developments do not need any parking at all.

She said: “I think it’s fair to say that, in a town centre location, that amount of on-site parking, while just 60 spaces, is a level you would perhaps not [normally] see.

“The judgement before you this evening is, based on current policy […] in a town centre location, whether it is acceptable to go from 60 to 27 spaces.”

She warned that, if the committee refused and the developer appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, it was “highly likely” they would be successful.

Cllr Williamson said it seemed “outrageous” for the developer to use the 2021 London Plan to justify the reduction in parking when the development did not meet the current plan’s standards in other areas, such as the provision of outside play space.

A report prepared for the meeting by officers noted that objecting residents had complained about the “poor workmanship” of the building, claiming there are “multiple problems which continue to persist” since it was converted in 2015.

All eight committee members voted to refuse the developer’s application to reduce the number of parking spaces at Verve Apartments.

However, after conferring quietly with committee chair Tim Ryan for several minutes, assistant director Oakerbee told councillors they must receive a further report before committing to refuse.

She told councillors: “This is not about me trying to change your mind, this is about trying to make sure this decision is the best version of that decision that can be taken.

“This is about the committee’s best interests, it’s not something I usually do but I do think it’s the right thing to do.”

She confirmed that this meant the application “remains live” until the report can be prepared and presented to the committee at an unspecified later date.

There was no representative of Smith Homes Ltd present at last night’s planning committee meeting.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter