Romford regeneration plan proceeds

Havering Council leader Ray Morgon has defended the decision to spend millions on a 1000-home regeneration scheme in Romford, despite concerns about soaring construction costs.

Since 2017, the council has planned to build 1,070 flats, a new school, a medical centre and commercial space at Bridge Close, a site at the south western edge of Romford town centre.

In 2018, the council created a joint venture company – Bridge Close Regeneration LLP – with private developers First Base and Savills to fund the development.

However, following “stagnation in the housing market and increased costs”, both developers decided not to continue with the project, forcing the council to buy them out.

Responding to concerns about the rising cost of building at Bridge Close, raised by Conservative group leader Damian White yesterday ( January 18), Cllr Morgon said he is determined to push ahead with the scheme.

The leader added:“ This administration is committed to advancing this regeneration scheme and recognises the contribution this development would make to Romford.

“The council has been supporting the purchase of land and property that has been necessary for the regeneration of Bridge Close, on occasions by private treaty by negotiations with landowners.

“Although these negotiations take time to reach a conclusion, the approach being taken is appropriate given the objective of regenerating the site, of re-providing the homes and adding the supporting infrastructure. 

“As you will know, the council takes professional advice on a range of matters concerning regeneration schemes, including current and predicted market conditions, sales values and construction costs.”

Reports published by the council show that, over the last five years, the council has bought existing properties on the site for confidential sums, either through voluntary sale or compulsory purchase orders.

This includes industrial units, an ambulance station, Islamic Cultural Centre and a number of terraced houses along Waterloo and Oldchurch Road.

A public update on the Bridge Close business plan is due to go before cabinet in February, along with a formal planning application later this year.

A briefing on the plans late last year suggested that the council no longer thinks it can meet the Mayor of London’s affordable housing target of 35 per cent.

Responding to the question of how many homes would be affordable, cabinet member for development and regeneration Graham Williamson said only that the council is looking to “maximise the number”.

Councillors heard that the council will hire an independent surveyor to suggest the “maximum reasonable amount” of affordable housing the scheme could deliver.

Although the exact cost so far of the Bridge Close scheme has been kept confidential, council reports show £15.5m has been set aside for the new school and £5m for the medical centre.

Under former leader Damian White, the council 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.

When Cllr White’s Conservative administration bought out both Savills and First Base, a council report at the time suggested the amount of affordable housing would therefore rise “from 30 per cent to 50 per cent”.

According to company accounts for 2021, private developers Savills and First Base had a 50 per cent share in the joint venture company before its sale to the council.

The records also show that the company had loaned £14m from the council and £4m from the private developers.

A CGI image of the square at Bridge Close

Advertisement

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter