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'Independence' claims raise stakes in Bishop's Place battle

Foster + Partners’ controversial £700 million Bishop’s Place development is facing a bizarre ‘constitutional’ threat after residents announced their intention to claim independence in a bid to scupper the East London scheme.

The founder of the Save the Light campaign group, James Goff – who runs the 19th-century Light Bar (pictured) on Shoreditch High Street, which lies in the way of the massive mixed-use project – said he had asked a barrister to check out the validity of the current authority boundaries.

Goff and architectural expert Robin Stummer believe the area around the bar, historically called Norton Folgate, could still be classed as a separate ‘liberty’ and not fall under the planning powers of Hackney Borough Council.

According to the group, maps unearthed in City of London’s Guildhall Library show the status of the precinct near Liverpool Street Station was never abolished in 1900 as previously thought.

Goff admitted that nobody has tried to ‘claim independence’ since the Second World War, but remained confident that the campaign had a case and could block Hammerson’s 100,000m2 high-rise scheme.

He said: ‘We thought the issue was worth following through so we’ve instructed a barrister on it – we wouldn’t have spent £5,000 on his opinion if we didn’t think there was anything to look into.

‘And if he does finds something we will take Hackney Council to court.’

Goff added: ‘Hammerson should be nervous. They should be reconsidering and realising their scheme lacks consideration.’

The unusual move is the latest twist surrounding the development, which has already been embroiled in accusations of ‘misleading consultation processes’ (AJ online 23.04.08).

In November the scheme, which will feature five towers including a 51-storey skyscraper, was also criticised by CABE for its size and massing.

Joanna Axon, project director for Hammerson, said: ‘The Bishop’s Place site is largely empty so this is a chance to revitalise the area and create thousands of new jobs.

‘The planning application will be decided by democratically elected local councillors. It would be a loss to the area if this regeneration opportunity was not realised.’

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