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RITCHIE SCHEME RISES ABOVE ROW

AGENDA

The headlines surrounding last week's decision by John Prescott to back Ian Ritchie's Potter's Field scheme laid bare a tale of conflict and bitterness.

English Heritage (EH) and the ODPM are locked in a public bunfight over the way a planning report on the scheme was written ( ajplus 14.10.05).

Yet despite this furore, the key stakeholders in the scheme have told the AJ they believe the scrap is pretty immaterial and that the real decisions about the site will be made behind closed doors and will not involve either EH or the ODPM.

The EH/ODPM spat dates back to 2003, when Southwark council, which owns the land along with Berkeley Homes, rejected a planning application by Ritchie and Berkeley for the development. Berkeley challenged the decision and an appeal process started in 2004. Last Tuesday, after a long wait, the Planning Inspectorate finally made its verdict public.

EH was unhappy with criticism from ODPM planning inspector Stuart Reid about its behaviour during the appeal.

Reid panned EH for taking a 'completely unclear' position and said he had problems with the actions of a large body of 'officers' at the organisation.

He believes they were 'not transparent' with their own London Advisory Committee (LAC) - the body of experts that advises them on major schemes in the capital.

EH wasn't particularly pleased with the accusations, threatening legal action, and the ODPM is now keeping quiet on the matter, since it is currently 'subject to appeal to the High Court'.

Yet, according to both Berkeley managing director Tony Pidgley and sources within Southwark, this argument amounts to little more than a tiff in the background. Both are keen to stress that they are still working with each other on Ritchie's scheme.

Berkeley needs to have a good relationship with Southwark because, planning permission or not, no buildings can go up at the site without the council's approval.

According to Paul Evans, head of regeneration at Southwark, the local authority's original problem with the scheme was that too little space was given over to cultural uses.

But, he said: 'We concluded that, irrespective of [Stuart Reid's] report, we wanted to be involved in a collaborative process. We have been working with Berkeley for some time - because we're both landowners and that has to happen.' It's a similar stance taken by Pidgley, who took issue with Southwark's decision in the first place. He considers himself from the 'old school' of developers that is not concerned with design. 'Thankfully it's a democracy, ' he said of Reid's comments on EH.

Now, bar the fact that Prescott has emphasised that the developer must deliver on affordable housing, it seems that it's 'all systems go' should Southwark and Berkeley manage to reach an agreement.

All of which leaves EH - along with its concerns for the heritage of Tower Bridge and its legal dispute with ODPM - somewhat out in the cold.

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