Cut to affordable homes at council-owned Meridian Water sites ‘absolute disgrace’

Enfield Council insists 40% of total homes at regeneration site will still be designated as affordable, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Work is ongoing at Meridian One, the first phase of Meridian Water
Work is ongoing at Meridian One, the first phase of Meridian Water

The leader of Enfield Council insists plans for Meridian Water have not changed despite a new report showing a reduction of homes on council-owned sites – with a lower percentage of affordable housing.

Council leader Nesil Caliskan said plans for the flagship Edmonton regeneration scheme “remain the same” – including a pledge to build 10,000 homes in total and ensure 40% of these are classed as affordable.

But an updated financial model indicates the number of affordable homes set to be built on council-owned sites at Meridian Water had dropped from the 3,846 forecast in 2019 (39.5% of the 9,725 total) to 3,569 now being forecast in 2023 (38.9% of a reduced 9,182 total).

The loss of 277 affordable homes from the new financial model was branded an “absolute disgrace” by Conservative leader Alessando Georgiou, who also criticised what he claimed was slow progress on the regeneration scheme.

But during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday (19th), the acting director of the Meridian Water project, Penny Halliday, emphasised that the report referred to council-owned land only and claimed the authority remained “on track” to exceed the 40% affordable housing target because the masterplan included third-party sites currently owned by Ikea and Tesco.

Penny explained that there had been an increase in non-residential floorspace to “maximise the quality employment and commercial space to ensure we get those quality jobs available for local people”.

The huge regeneration scheme has recently been hit by a string of setbacks, including delays to key infrastructure works and the Greater London Authority’s ongoing refusal to de-designate land earmarked for industrial use to allow housebuilding.

Peter George, who led the Meridian Water scheme for eight years, left the council earlier this year but claimed the project was in a “very strong place”.

The scheme’s new financial model was presented to a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Wednesday after being revised following “unprecedented inflation” caused by “Covid, Brexit and other global and domestic events” which pushed up construction costs.

It reveals plans to market four development sites within the regeneration zone this year, while ten-year capital spending at Meridian Water is set to rise from £326million to £368.6m, with £202m of this funded by borrowing.

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The report states that the 2019 financial model assumed 702 homes would be built on the car park of Swedish furniture company Ikea, which owns a now-closed store within the regeneration zone. It adds that this site has the capacity for 2,000 homes, meaning the council’s overall target of 10,000 homes at Meridian Water could be exceeded.

Ikea is expected to advertise the site for sale during the autumn, and the report acknowledges that it could be bought by an organisation that does not share the council’s development aims. The council plans to reduce this risk “by a regular positive dialogue with the Ikea management team”.

Construction works funded by £170m from the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) have been unable to start on site, the report reveals, as inflation means the schemes cannot be delivered “within the funding envelope”. The council is now lobbying the government for extra cash.

It adds that the Meridian Water masterplan has “gone through several iterations” since 2018 and will “continue to evolve”. However, the council still gave no details of when the new masterplan would be published. The only published version of the masterplan was approved in July 2013, when the scheme was expected to be half its current size, and there have been repeated calls to make the updated version public.

Conservative leader Alessandro Georgiou said the Conservatives believed the council was “downplaying” the amount of capital spending required over the next ten years. He also suggested the administration was holding back information on Meridian Water, including the assumptions that lie behind the capital programme.

Cllr Georgiou added: “For example, it refers to the HIF funding in the report – we have been saying for a while now that because of the delays on site, it is no surprise that the government has not been quicker on the funding.”

The Conservative leader said the “biggest failure” was that the council was now going to be a “nominal master developer” and sell off sites to the private sector “because they can’t afford to get it done”.

Responding to the comments, Cllr Caliskan said the council’s plans for Meridian Water “remain the same, and will deliver even more affordable homes on council land than previously planned for, with just under 10,000 new homes at 40% affordable levels”.

The council leader accused the government of “dithering over funding for infrastructure” adding that its “delay in signing off HIF money to more than ten projects across the country shows their inefficiency, holding up the delivery of 324,000 homes nationally”.

Cllr Caliskan said the council’s role as master developer had allowed it to review the scheme and “remain flexible in the face of escalating inflation and economic uncertainty”, which is why it was “bringing forward the marketing of four parcels in 2023 to seek partners for development”.

She added: “Our delivery model will ensure the project continues to build much-needed new homes at good value for money to benefit local people.”

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