Walthamstow development ‘fully inclusive’

Waltham Forest Council insists plans to house richer and poorer tenants in separate parts of a new Walthamstow development are still “fully inclusive”.

The council is demolishing the locally-listed former Wood Street Library – a new library opened 500 metres down the road last August – and plans to build an 11-storey tower, with council office space and 67 homes, on the site.

However, during a meeting with architect Haworth Thompson on February 16, Cllr Marie Pye (Lab, Leytonstone) questioned the decision to separate rich and poor tenants.

If the current design is approved, tenants in the 18 affordable flats will live on separate floors and use a separate set of stairs and lifts, although they would have the same door.

Cabinet member for housing delivery Cllr Simon Miller said that the design proposed was “fully inclusive”.

He emphasised that there will be “one single shared residential entrance” and that facilities such as cycle stores and a communal garden will be “for use by all residents”.

He said: “The specifications of both (sections of the building) will be the same, and they will be built to the same high standards.

“Separate cores are a feature of the vast majority of mixed-tenure developments and are adopted for day-to-day housing management reasons.

“(They) ensure that the service charges, particularly for lift and building services maintenance, are kept proportionate and not passed onto the residents living in the affordable housing.

“The council doesn’t know who the affordable landlord will be at this stage, meaning that maximum flexibility needs to be maintained within the design.”

In the proposed design, affordable homes are located on floors one to four, while shared ownership and market-rate homes are on floors five and above.

At the February 16 meeting, a Waltham Forest Council officer said not segregating the flats would also “add additional risk in terms of marketability”.

They said: “The scheme has challenging viability because we are delivering a new hub, as well as 50 per cent affordable homes… (which) the market units are helping subsidise.

“We have made a tenure-blind residential entrance but felt that we had to de-risk the scheme and have separate cores.”

Asked by Cllr Marie Pye if they were arguing potential buyers would not pay as much for a flat “if they have to live next door to somebody in affordable housing”, the officer confirmed it would “impact values” for the market-rate homes.

Cllr Marie Pye has previously argued residents of different income levels should be housed next to one another and that any separation within developments creates a metaphorical “poor door”, even if there is a shared entrance.

In November, raising concerns about a separate scheme with a similar design, she said: “It’s not acceptable, we need to have people who are socially renting living next to private renters so their kids get to know each other and they live in inclusive communities.”

Architect Haworth Thompson told Architects Journal that separating the flats “is something totally different” to a “poor door”. [https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/haworth-tompkins-denies-designing-poor-doors-for-walthamstow-block]

It added that “by no stretch of the imagination” could it be considered one, and that ‘poor doors’ have “no place in contemporary society”.

Work is meant to start on the new building in October this year, with the aim of finishing by October 2023.

Haworth Tompkins will appear again before the planning committee at an as-yet unknown date to seek final approval for its design.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter