Romford housing development plans proceed

Havering Council is pushing ahead with a 1,000-home development in Romford but does not know how many of the homes will be affordable.

In 2017, former leader of the council, Damian White, announced the council’s plan to regenerate a warehouse and residential site at Bridge Close, at the south western edge of Romford town centre.

To help finance the plans, Cllr White approved a 50:50 joint venture with developers First Base Ltd and Savills to build 1,070 homes, a primary school, a health centre and commercial spaces.

But in September 2020 the council announced it needed to “protect” the regeneration plans by buying out the developers, who were “unwilling” to invest further due to rising construction costs.

An update on Bridge Close presented to the strategic planning committee last night heard the council now does not think it can meet the Mayor of London’s 35 per cent affordable housing target.

Instead, the council will follow the “viability tested route”, where an independent surveyor will produce a report suggesting the “maximum reasonable amount” of affordable housing the scheme it could deliver.

Features of the Bridge Close plans outlined by the team include 1,070 flats – 42 per cent one-bed, 47 per cent two-bed and 11 per cent three-bed – in eleven blocks between five and fourteen storeys high.

The plans also include a three-form primary school with SEN provision, a nursery, a healthcare facility, retail space and 1,100sqm of community space.

Architect for the Bridge Close masterplan Stina Hokby said public realm improvements are also planned, such as “opening up” the River Rom and a “much better” east-west route to the town centre over a new pedestrian and cycle bridge.

After a presentation on the scheme from a team of project managers, consultants and architects last night, Councillor Jane Keane commented that the “massive development” seemed to have progressed “without a lot of detail” about affordability.

She said: “Now what have we got, a viability assessment and maybe some affordable housing?”

The newly-elected Labour councillor criticised the “piecemeal” way a number of big developments are planned nearby, including 972 homes at the former Romford Ice Rink and proposals for 860 homes at Rom Valley Retail Park and Seedbed Centre.

She added: “There is meant to be a masterplan in the works, I’m really struggling to see how the cumulative developments in this ward are going to impact residents.

“This is one small bit of an extremely large development and it’s all being done very piecemeal… so I’m very much at a disadvantage.”

In 2019 the Conservative administration consulted on a masterplan that would guide developments in Romford, but no plan has been approved to date.

Conservative ward councillor Judith Holt said she was concerned about “overcrowding” given that all the homes were in “tall blocks” rather than townhouses.

Committee members shared a concern about the limited parking on the site for users of the school and health hub, which could attract patients from across Havering.

The council initially committed £75m to the project with the promise of creating a “beacon” for regeneration in the town centre, at least 300 affordable homes and £10m in profit.

However, council reports suggest First Base and Savills became nervous as predicted profits dropped from 10.9 per cent to 8.5 per cent by 2019.

In December 2020, Cllr White’s Conservative administration decided to fully fund the scheme for a sum that could not be published because it was “commercially sensitive”.

To justify this, a council report at the time suggested the amount of affordable housing would rise “from 30 per cent to 50 per cent”.

Havering Council has been approached for comment on the projected amount proportion of affordable housing for Bridge Close.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter