Neoclassical architect Francis Terry and a local community group have hit out at Royal Mail’s £193 million sale of its Mount Pleasant Site site to housebuilder Taylor Wimpey
The move effectively ends the Mount Pleasant Association (MPA)’s hopes to build its own scheme on the central London plot – a lower-rise alternative to already approved, but controversial, plans designed by Allies and Morrison, WilkinsonEyre, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and AHMM.
Following the big money deal, the AJ understands Taylor Wimpey will now press ahead with these consented designs, which include building 681 homes on the 2.5ha site.
Approved in March 2015, this scheme is opposed by many local residents and led the MPA to submit its own rival plans, drawn up by Terry, last October.
Terry told the AJ he was ‘not surprised’ by the sale. ‘It looks like it’s over for us,’ he added. ‘We were a small group with virtually no money, representing local people, versus a big opponent with very deep pockets. It was a David and Goliath situation, and Goliath won.’
MPA member Edward Denison, a local resident, architect and lecturer at the Barlett, said: ‘The private sale of formerly public land is bad enough, but the much-maligned, poorly planned and critically outdated scheme of luxury investment units that gained consent only with the personal intervention of former mayor Boris Johnson is an indictment of our society, a tragedy for London and a national scandal.
‘By successful challenging [Royal Mail]’s assertions, the local community not only proved that there were alternative approaches that could deliver more social housing and infinitely more attractive public spaces, places and amenities on this site, but also contributed to the site’s devaluation by tens of millions of pounds.’
Working with social enterprise Create Streets, the association submitted the initial designs for part of the site, which were supported and part-funded by London mayor Sadiq Khan, under the Community Right to Build rules.
They feature 125 homes, up to half of which could be affordable, as well as 1,200m² of commercial space. According to The Guardian, the group hopes to provide 40 more affordable homes than the Royal Mail’s favoured scheme.
Nicholas Boys Smith, founding director of Create Streets, who said the enterprise was working with the MPA to draw up said he feared the approved development was a ‘bad scheme’.
He explained: ‘It almost minimises connectivity and turns its back on its neighbours in a series of huge blocks’, and dubbed the design ’Fortress Pleasant’.
Boys Smith, who said Create Streets was working with the MPA to design the second phase of a community-led masterplan for the wider 4.7ha site, would contact Taylor Wimpey in order to help the company deliver more affordable housing and increase local support for the scheme.
Regarding the Royal Mail project, he added: ‘The scheme was very skilfully designed to game our labyrinthine planning system, secure consent from the Greater London Authority and obtain maximum short to medium term returns. The savage irony is that by gaming the system, Royal Mail have reduced the long-term value of the site.
‘A better plan with higher connectivity would deliver provably more long-term value and thus could afford to support more affordable homes, as the community and Islington and Camden councils wanted. This scheme has only 23.9 per cent affordable homes. Everyone has lost, including the Royal Mail shareholder who, on our calculations, could have gained millions of pounds more from a better-connected, street-based scheme.’
Boys Smith also said that he did not think the ‘Mount Pleasant saga’ is ’quite over’.
The approved plans straddle two London boroughs, Islington and Camden, whose councils had also fiercely opposed the project. Former London mayor Boris Johnson approved the scheme in principle in April 2015 after using his planning powers to wrest determination of the scheme from the two local authorities.
James Murray, Islington Council’s then executive member for housing and development and the current London deputy mayor, said at the time: ‘A vital opportunity to build hundreds of genuinely affordable homes for local people has been bulldozed by Boris. The AJ has contacted City Hall to request a comment from James Murray.
In 2014, locally based architects Peter Barber and Zaha Hadid both expressed interest in developing alternative designs for the site.