At last some positive news on what is happening to Sutherland House, the empty building just south of the railway station in Brighton Road on the corner with Cedar Road.
This building has been empty far too long but we now have confirmation from the owners, Criterion Capital, that the work is well under way to renovate the building. The renovation will convert the building to 128 luxury flats with car parking spaces, one per flat.
They expect the work to be finished by March 2016. They will be appointing local estate agents to act for them to offer the flats for rent. We are a little surprised that they are to be offered for rent rather than sale, but given the location close to the station there will be no shortage of demand. We doubt if they will be actively marketing the flats until the work is sufficiently progressed for them to have a show flat for people to look at, but they say the work will be to a high standard.
We have been critical of the developers as they used a route to bypass normal planning permission requirements, but at last work is under way and we have a date by which the building will be occupied. The year 2016 will be a good one for the area with the occupation of the Subsea7 building and Sutherland House, bringing people into the area who will spend money in local shops and restaurants, which will give the whole area an uplift.
The argument over the future of Sutherland House was the subject of a letter from Richard published by The Guardian (the national paper, not the Sutton Guardian) on 5 February. Here is the text:
Congratulations to The Guardian for exposing the loss of affordable housing that has resulted from the Government’s successive changes to planning law.
The latest changes are in a series that have progressively created major loopholes to excuse developers from providing affordable housing. Just south of Sutton station, in south London, there is an office building, empty for some years, which the developers propose to convert to 128 luxury flats. The day before Sutton Council’s Planning Committee was to approve the scheme, which included a significant number of affordable homes, the developers withdrew the scheme. They had spotted the advantages to them if they followed a newly-created route called “prior approval” that has now forced the Council to accept the application with zero affordable homes included.
On one calculation, our Borough may have lost up to 500 affordable homes due to that legislation. The latest changes you highlight are further steps on a path that is seriously undermining the efforts of local authorities to help those in dire need of better housing.
Councillor Richard Clifton, Chair of Planning Committee, London Borough of Sutton”
At the meeting of Sutton Council on 19 January Richard criticised the owners of Sutherland House for their “inertia” in relation to the re-development of the empty building.
Richard joined with Sutton Councillor Hanna Zuchowska in pointing out that the owners withdrew an application for planning permission that included an element of affordable housing before exploiting recent changes in planning law to get permission for conversion of the building to 128 luxury flats with no affordable housing element. But still, although the building has been empty for five years, they do not get on with the re-development.
Speaking after the meeting Richard said “The building is still empty and a blot on the landscape. The development of the Subsea7 building, bringing 800 office jobs to the area, and the improvements associated with the Sutton Gateway project, are giving a lift to the area just south of Sutton station. We need the developers to get on with the renovation of Sutherland House.”
The full text of Richard’s speech, seconding a motion on affordable housing, is as follows:
“In seconding this motion, I would like to draw attention to the opening sentence, which speaks of the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
I find it astonishing that in my own lifetime the wealth gap between rich and poor has not just failed to diminish but has actually widened.
The figures are so astounding one hardly believes them – that the top 80 (eight zero) wealthiest individuals in the world own more than half the world’s wealth, that is they own as much as half the population of the planet.
And in our own country about 30 billionaires own half the wealth of the nation.
And the implications of this inequality are not just a matter of concern for social policy.
A fascinating study published by the OECD last December showed that countries with a smaller and narrowing gap between rich and poor experienced higher rates of economic growth, and if the gap between rich and poor had not widened in Britain from the 1980’s the UK economy would in fact be 20% larger.
George Osborne ought to reflect on the reasons for this. If you increase the earnings of the poor they will spend it, creating income, jobs and wealth for others, but if you increase the earnings of the rich they may save much of it. He ought to remember this when he plans yet further raids on the welfare budget, on financial support to the very poorest in society, rather than asking the wealthy to contribute more.
It is a finding that demonstrates that the so-called “trickledown” economics so beloved of leaders on the right of the political spectrum – and that included Margaret Thatcher – whereby largesse afforded to the very rich trickled down to help the very poor, was in fact a recipe for lower growth and thus a lower increase in living standards for all.
We need concerted policy action to deal with this, and tax rates on the highest earners, property taxes, the minimum wage, and welfare support to the very poor, are all important aspects. But we all know that action and support for those in need can be best targeted if undertaken at a local level.
Here in Sutton, we will continue to do what we can to build a fairer and more equal society, something of particular importance to us as Liberal Democrats, even if what we can do is sometimes at the most basic level, such as dealing with concerns about food and housing.
And the fact that we have Food Banks, here in Britain, in one of the more affluent countries in the world, makes my point about inequality more eloquently than any of my words can do.
On housing, we can be proud of our record in Sutton.
As Councillor McCoy told us, the Council is promoting affordable housing, something that is vital when I find that in my own Ward changes to planning law mean that a block like Sutherland House can become 128 luxury flats with no affordable housing requirement atall. If and when the developers finally get on with it, and I deplore their inertia.
And the Council is dealing with homelessness: I was heartened by the serious and concerned tone of the debate at Planning Committee on the proposal to provide short-term accommodation for homeless families in Benhill Road. It was the Committee at its best. This was on an evening – 17 December 2014 – when no less than 76 (seven six) Sutton families were homeless and in bed and breakfast accommodation, often miles from Sutton.
Mr. Mayor, we must continue our efforts as a Council to care for the most needy of our residents, while having a concern – as citizens – to promote policies, at every level, that will increase economic growth but distribute the rewards more fairly.
I am pleased to second the motion.”