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Amin Taha: 'Clerkenwell scheme does not breach planning policy'

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Amin Taha has hit back at criticism that his nearly completed six-storey office block in north London breaches planning policy

The architect says the scheme in Clerkenwell Green, which has a structural stone exoskeleton, has full approval from Islington Council and that the borough gave consent to the project under delegated powers.

But councillor Martin Klute, vice-chair of the borough’s planning committee, has said the building demonstrates ‘contempt for the planning process’ and is in ‘breach of planning policy’. He also described it as ‘hideous’.

Klute, who is also a senior technician at AHMM, points to two enforcement notices issued by the borough – both since withdrawn – one of which the Islington Tribune reported had ordered Taha to demolish the building, which is opposite Grade I-listed St James Church.

The councillor also disputes Taha’s claim that the façade treatment on the building – which he described as a ‘bizarre limestone treatment’ – was approved by planning officers. He claims Taha had never ‘produced copies of approved drawings for the design he has built’.

Explaining the enforcement notices, a council spokesman admitted that its officers had initially believed that ‘demolition [of the building was] required, due to the nature and extent of the breaches of planning policy that [were] evident’.

However, Taha has fiercely defended the building, which he intends to move his practice Groupwork into next month.

Responding to the criticisms, Taha said he had a full set of documentation for the scheme, and that his local councillor at Islington Council, Raphael Andrews, had seen ‘all copies of drawings and planning documentation and consequently supports my position’.

The architect claims he submitted a loadbearing brick design in 2012 after receiving negative feedback from the conservation team to his original proposal: a ‘column-free’ building with a steel plate superstructure (see AJ 09.11.12).

Following further criticism, a number of brick, stone and mixed material loadbearing options were put forward before, it is understood, final approval was granted under delegated powers in 2013.

Taha told the AJ that pre-commencement conditions for materials, finishes and design were signed off in 2015 by the same case officers under delegated powers (see attached documents bottom).

However, until recently only the original loadbearing brick submission was visible on the council’s website, with none of the stone drawings yet uploaded.

An exasperated Taha added: ‘Klute refuses to meet [me] and view these [approved] documents and, instead of allowing the planning department to independently deal with the issue, instructs them and enforcement officers to take action.’

The architect has also hit back at Klute’s criticism of the stone façade.

‘Limestone and its “bizarre” treatment is written into the final full-plans approved design option as well as the pre-commencement conditions and the delegated report, specifically stating the finish types, namely natural quarry finished, drilled split and saw cut,’ Taha said.

‘Furthermore, the nationality of the quarry and that it is a structural exoskeleton are highlighted in the planning officer’s delegated report, initialled by the conservation officer and countersigned by the team and department leaders.

‘The “bizarre” appearance is fossilised ammonite shells, coral and quartz. Why would anyone see that as hideous and want to cut it off and face it in brick slips?’

Andrews said he backed Taha and described the behaviour of the council as ‘appalling’ and the situation as ‘insane’.

‘The building has been given planning permission,’ he said. ‘The council has lost the papers and now they are claiming that it hasn’t been given planning permission.

‘This is nonsense because I saw the papers.’

It is understood Islington Council is taking legal advice with a view to re-serving the enforcement notices. 

Taha says he has taken legal advice and, the AJ has learned, will fight any ‘suggested breaches’.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Like it or not (and I do) -this shouldn't be an issue for LBI to waste time on, far bigger issues out there.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    A propos of nothing, one day I'll read the entire catalogue of Planning Acts as see who decided subjective opinion was a useful cornerstone for determining Planning Applications.

    I'm sure if the RIBA appointed a smart QC, hesheorit could drive a coach and horses through the Planning Acts. Might be a good use of my RIBA subs.

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  • Chris Roche

    Instead of offering an opinion poll on the merits or otherwise of this building, the AJ could initiate a Campaign/Petition to save the building. It would be a travesty if enforcement action were to be taken on the aesthetic subjectivity of the cladding material. If however it can be proven that the Architect has violated the Planning Approval, then an Appeal would be the first course of action, which if found against the Architect then a proportionate penalty could be found which does not involve demolition. Planning Law is a mess and needs to be overhauled.

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