Friday, 3 April 2015

Chase Farm Housing: Why the secrecy?

On March 12th the Council Planning Committee approved the Royal Free’s application to build a new Chase Farm hospital. This is long overdue and I’m sure it will be a good one. The school, too, is welcome. It’s the housing that’s the problem.

Enfield certainly needs more homes. There are many people, especially young people, who need homes of their own. So what they need is affordable homes. The redevelopment of Chase Farm is an opportunity to provide those homes yet the Council has accepted that only 13% of the 500 need to be affordable – rather than the 40% usually required.

The Royal Free claims that 13% is more that it can really afford and has shared the calculations (technically the Financial Viability Assessment) with the Council officers. But only the officers. Planning Committee members can’t see them and neither can we – the public – even though it’s our NHS negotiating with our Council! And this is despite judgements by the Information Commissioner and the relevant Tribunal in a case in Greenwich and in at least four other cases that the calculations should be published. The tribunal judge said publication of the calculations “would enrich the debate on an issue of considerable public importance”.

The issue here is transparency versus secrecy. Whether two public bodies should be able to reach a private understanding to keep key facts from the public. And it is the result of a drift towards NHS privatisation which obliges a world-class hospital to think like a property developer.

It appears that elected politicians – the democratically elected servants of the people – must take lessons in accountability from an unelected and unaccountable judge.

Call me naïve if you will – but I think that’s wrong.

It’s not too late to publish.


  1. Yesterday the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published an analysis of the Knight Dragon FVA. See

    On 11 May Greenwich Council proposed "to introduce a new list of locally established criteria that sets out what information should be provided when submitting a planning application – which includes the requirement to provide a fully public viability study for residential developments with less than 35 per cent affordable homes. This will then be subject to full public consultation".

    That is very welcome and would set a valuable precedent.

  2. I have made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner about the Council's refusal to publish the Viability Assessment and the Commissioner's Office has opened a case. This is a slow process but I'm hopeful of success.