Report by James Cracknell and Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
Another major row has blown up over Enfield Council’s flagship redevelopment project, Meridian Water, after a detailed report claimed “very few local residents” will be able to afford a home there.
The report is highly critical of the council’s plans to build 10,000 homes across the ex-industrial zone, suggesting that key decisions were being rushed “possibly compromising the opportunity to effectively address local housing and employment needs”.
After years of delays and two deals with master developers going sour in 2017 and 2018, the council decided to take over control of the project itself. It has since obtained planning permission for the first two phases of new homes and secured a £156m infrastructure grant from the government to improve transport connectivity at the site.
But the newly-published ‘Meridian Water Scrutiny Workstream‘ report – described as a “deep dive” into the project by councillors tasked with scrutinising the council’s decision-makers – called for more evidence to back up claims over housing affordability, local job creation, land use, and the scheme’s overall financial viability.
The report was authored by Labour councillor Charith Gunawardena and states that with the lowest-priced Meridian Water homes set to cost £345,000, they “will not address local need across Enfield, let alone in Edmonton”. It adds: “The median household income in Enfield is £34,000, so the homes would be unaffordable to the majority of local people, especially those without a large deposit.”
Half the homes at Meridian Water, set to be built over the next 15-20 years, will be offered for private sale or rent, with the rest classed as “affordable”. But no social rent homes are included in the first two phases that have won planning permission and Achilleas Georgiou, another councillor involved in drawing up the report, claims only 27% of homes in Meridian Water’s first two phases will be affordable to local people.
At an overview and scrutiny committee meeting held last month, where the report was presented, Meridian Water’s programme director Peter George defended the council’s approach and said: “The report states that certain properties at Meridian Water will be unaffordable to local people – implying the council itself is responsible for setting market value.
“The market value will be set by our housing partners, who will be responsible for selling homes having regard for new-build precedents as well as the sales values within the local area.
“We have evidence that demonstrates the affordable rented homes, the ‘London Living Rent’ homes, will be affordable for everyone living in Edmonton.”
Council leader Nesil Caliskan also spoke at the meeting and said the local authority’s decision to take on the role of master developer “significantly diminishes the risk associated with private investors and overseas buyers”. She added: “Under the earlier plans to enter a single contract with a single private-sector partner, there would be no guarantees. So, we can ensure private homes are sold to first-time buyers and UK nationals, we can prioritise local people for new jobs, and guarantee that social infrastructure is provided.
“Intermediate and affordable rented housing are covered by housing benefit and are therefore affordable for local people.”
Councillor Edward Smith, the Conservative group’s lead on housing and regeneration, later responded to the report and said: “Many of the findings are deeply disturbing given the lengthy delays, hundreds of millions spent by the council to date, and the billions of debt being racked up.
“The lack of strategic direction was the most worrying aspect of the report’s findings. None of the issues raised were acknowledged or addressed fully by the leader of the council.
“The council appeared to be determined to ignore the lessons of the past and to press ahead regardless with an over-dense, high-rise scheme with insufficient communal provision.”