Dismore questions Mayor on key worker housing and the Royal Free scheme to sell Queen Mary’s House for luxury flats

At today’s London Assembly Mayor’s Question Time Andrew Dismore AM, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, questioned the Mayor on the Royal Free scheme to sell Queen Mary’s House for luxury flats and the need for key worker housing in Hampstead (video here).

Mr Dismore said:

‘At the Royal Free Hospital on Monday, the Prime Minister announced the long-trailed increase in NHS spending.

‘When she was at the Royal Free, do you think she was aware of the reports that the Royal Free NHS Trust are intending to develop Queen Mary’s House, a century-old building, into 162 luxury flats, changing its current use as affordable homes for 52 nurses and teachers. The Royal Free have been marketing the site since March 2018.

‘Thank you for your letter (attached below) about this which I received today, in which you say that the Royal Free is ‘gauging the level of interest with a view to a possible sale in the future’: however, I think that things have gone beyond that. A website has been set up to promote the building as “Hampstead Garden – a rare opportunity to create one of the most desirable new-build schemes in London.”

‘The key worker tenants are all on short term leases and while the Royal Free says it will find alternative accommodation for them, but ever-higher property prices means Hampstead has lost a huge number of affordable properties in recent years: undermining the social mix and making it harder for Royal Free staff to live locally. The Royal Free needs more, not less, staff accommodation and it makes little sense to lose these homes for key workers when average monthly rent for a 1 bed flat in Camden is £1,612, 78% of the average take home pay of a nurse.

‘I know from your letter you share my concerns about this.  Do you think the loss of 52 affordable keyworker homes, and their replacement by 162 luxury flats is in compliance with the housing and planning policies of Camden council and those you have set out?

‘How do you think this contrasts with your approach, for example bringing the previously abandoned cottages behind West Hampstead Fire Station back into use for key workers in the London Fire Brigade?’

The Mayor said that on 5th July the NHS turns 70. It’s workers are vital and housing is a real barrier. 40% of nurses are expected to leave the capital by 2021 due to high housing costs. His affordable housing programme has introduced London Living Rents. Last year there were a record number of affordable homes, over 6,000. He is working with the NHS on surplus sites. The GLA is talking to the Trust re the loss of accommodation and will only accept the scheme if affordable housing is reprovided. On surplus land development, half should be affordable.

He commended Mr Dismore for his work, leading to the refurbishment of the West Hampstead Fire Station Cottages, which will create 8 single person homes on surplus Fire Brigade estate, which would have been sold off.

After the debate Mr Dismore added:

‘I am pleased the Mayor shares my concerns, that the loss of NHS staff accommodation and lack of affordable housing impacts on NHS recruitment.

According to the NHS the mean annual basic pay for nurses and health visitors was £31,192 in the 12 months to June 2017. Average monthly rent for a 1 bed flat in Camden is £1,612, 78% the average take home pay of a nurse; and even with the Government’s definition of affordable rent (80% market rent) that would be £1,289.60, 62% the average take home pay of a nurse.

‘In January, a New Economics Foundation report looked specifically at the NHS sites which had so far been sold under the Government’s public land sale programme. They estimated that in London, 82% of the planned homes on former NHS land were to be built for market sale. None of these market homes are affordable to NHS key workers on average salaries. If they were, the shortest time it would take an NHS key worker to save for a deposit is 117 years!

‘If and when a planning application for Queen Mary’s House comes forward, I am sure the Mayor will take a robust view, as he has with other sites elsewhere in London.’


NOTE: See my Letter to Sadiq Khan on Queen Mary House 2018

Also see Sadiq Khan’s letter of response on Queen Marys House here.