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Amin Taha and Islington Council lock horns over Clerkenwell Close decision

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A war of words has broken out again between Amin Taha and Islington Council after a planning inspector saved the architect’s Clerkenwell Close scheme from demolition

Last Thursday (15 August) a planning inspector overturned Islington’s orders to demolish the divisive seven-storey building, deciding a long-running feud over whether or not the building had permission.

But, following the publication of the 23-page decision, neither side has shown any sign of burying the hatchet.

On Friday, an Islington Council spokesperson said it was ‘disappointed’ the inspector had decided to quash its enforcement notice against the scheme.

However, it added: ’We’re pleased that Taha has finally admitted that the building did not benefit from planning permission.’ 

’The council looks forward to the removal of the unauthorised and visually harmful solar chimney, changes to the roof garden, and alterations to the limestone columns and beams facing Clerkenwell Close, as set out in the Inspector’s conditions.’

Taha immediately hit back, arguing he had not admitted the scheme did not have planning permission and that this wording was ‘disingenuous of the appeal process’.

He added: ‘It’s rather saddening to see someone’s spin machine in action instead of just graciously accepting they were wrong.’

Islington Council also said it was pleased Taha would be paying a £420,000 payment towards ‘badly-needed affordable housing, in line with Islington’s planning policies’.

Taha dismissed this as ’more disappointing and rather insulting political spin’, arguing this payment was agreed in 2013 but the council would not accept the payment, as enforcement action was ongoing.

In February last year Islington hit Taha with an enforcement notice because, according to the council’s planners, the award-winning building was different from the designs that had been given consent.

Taha appealed the notice, and on Thursday planning inspector PN Jarratt agreed to quash the demolition order and grant the ‘thoughtful building’ planning permission. 

While the inspector agreed there was a difference between the parties on what was either submitted or approved, he said the building was ‘not harmful to the conservation area in general terms’.

‘The principle of development is not in dispute and the building accords with the generality of what had previously been approved,’ he said.

The inspector’s report did say that Amin must shoulder a ’significant degree of responsibility’ for submitting ’inconsistent plans’ and said some aspects of the building varied from the original permission and must be modified.

Extracts from the planning inspector’s report

I attach considerable weight to 2013 planning permission and approval of conditions, notwithstanding that there is a difference between the parties on what was either submitted or approved. This is an unsatisfactory situation for both parties and it is not in the public interest if members of the public cannot establish what has been approved when examining planning records. Nevertheless, the principle of development is not in dispute and the building accords with the generality of what had previously been approved.

I have concluded that, while the design is controversial, it is of a very high standard that has generated a significant degree of public support and support within the architectural community, to which I attach great weight, notwithstanding the building being contrary to a number of development plan policies. Nevertheless, I also attach considerable weight to the harm caused to heritage assets, although this is limited in extent and is less than substantial. As the harm caused could be mitigated by conditions that could be imposed on the planning permission and there are public benefits of the scheme, these factors add weight to the acceptability of the development.

It is directed that the enforcement notice be corrected by the substitution of the plan annexed to this decision for the plan attached to the enforcement notice. Subject to this correction, the appeal is allowed and the enforcement notice is quashed.

Planning permission is granted on the application subject to the following conditions [selected]

  • The provision and installation of an additional 133.5m² [office] floorspace on the ground floor of the development shall be commenced no later that 12 months from the date of this decision and completed no later than 18 months of the date of this decision. It shall be used for employment purposes only and maintained as such thereafter.
  • The solar chimney situated above the lift overrun at the roof level of the development […] shall be removed and amended […] no later than 24 months from the date of this decision. The resultant required mechanical ventilation for the lift shaft shall [be moved to another position].
  • The biodiverse roof shall be maintained in its present form. Existing trees forming part of the biodiverse roof shall be either pruned or kept at no more than 1 metre in height or replaced with species no more than 1 metre in height at maturity above roof level. The biodiverse roof shall not be used as an amenity or sitting-out space of any kind whatsoever and shall only be used in the case of essential maintenance or repair, upkeep or bee husbandry or escape in case of emergency.
  • The sawn faces of the limestone columns and beams facing Clerkenwell Close shall be tooled to provide a rough finish to match the finish of the adjacent columns and beams, subject to the structural integrity of the columns and beams not being affected. Where the sawn faces on the front façade of the building face rearwards towards the windows, these shall not require tooling. A sample panel shall be made available for inspection and approval by the local planning authority within 6 months of the date of this decision and the tooling shall be completed within 6 months of the local planning authority’s written approval to the sample block.

    Clerkenwell Close by Groupwork   Amin Taha 1

    Clerkenwell Close by Groupwork Amin Taha 1

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Surprised at the lack of clarity over what had been approved.
    Earlier in the year I looked at the Islington Planning web-site and all the applications and was pretty sure the building had consent as it has been built (aside from lift over-rub & solar pipe, maybe).
    I note some of these applications and approvals appear to have been redacted from the web-site.

    It is new to me that if one has a planning permission then it MUST be built (employment floor space) Let's then apply the same logic to all that unbuilt but approved housing.

    As for the appearance of the stonework, surely just a personal taste matter, and why not make it all sawn faced ?

    Anyway, expect more vindictive campaigns by disgruntled planning councillors and judgements by the Ministry for Truth and Beauty post Brexit.

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