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Amin Taha wins appeal against Clerkenwell Close demolition order

  • 11 Comments

Amin Taha’s award-winning Clerkenwell Close looks set to be saved after a planning inspector overturned Islington Council’s demolition order

The architect has been locked in a long-running battle with the local planning authority over its attempt to bulldoze his seven-storey office and home in Clerkenwell.

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.

However Taha appealed the notice and in a decision published today (15 August), a planning inspector agreed to quash the demolition order and grant the ’thoughtful building’ planning permission. 

In his decision, planning inspector PN Jarratt said while he agreed there was a ’difference’ between the parties on what was either submitted or approved, in ‘general terms’ the building was not harmful to the conservation area. 

He added: ‘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.’

However the inspector did find there was some harm in the smooth ’sawn faces’ on the Clerkenwell Court elevation, which he described as ‘intrusive and prominent’.

He ordered the architect to explore ways he could ‘tool’ the surfaces to bring them in line with the building’s rougher columns and beams.

Amin Taha said he and his practice Groupwork were all ‘extremely happy and very relieved’ at the news. 

Commenting on the condition, Taha told the AJ he thought it was the result of a request by chair of Islington’s planning committee, councillor Martin Klute, getting ‘lost in translation’.

He said: ’It seems to have been muddled with Klute’s request that everything is smooth and gone the other way with everything to be rough instead, very odd.’

He added: ’let’s not get overly upset at this stage with yet more muddles, at least the major one is dealt with’.

The enforcement notice is the latest in a series issued by the council since 2016.

The first was delivered in June of that year when a neighbour complained that the building appeared to be in ‘concrete’ not brick as per the initial 2013 submission.

An enforcement officer and conservation officer were sent to visit the site where, Taha claims, he was told they had been instructed by the councillor to build a case for its demolition. This is firmly denied by the council.

That notice was later withdrawn.

In June 2017, a second notice was issued calling for the building to be flattened and replaced in brick. However this was also withdrawn after Taha’s solicitors sent the council a letter which asked to see the report backing this notice.

In February 2018, a new notice was issued. A spokesperson said at the time: ‘After an investigation, the council has come to the view that the building at 15 Clerkenwell Close does not reflect the building that was granted planning permission and conservation area consent in 2013.’

Summing up the huge interest in the Clerkenwell Close saga, Jarratt wrote that he had received 24 letters objecting to the designs and 133 written representations of support.

He wrote: ’Some 14 third parties spoke at the inquiry, including eminent persons in the field of architecture, extolling the virtues of the imaginative building and reflecting on the various design awards that the building has received and the attention given by the press to the building’. 

Other conditions attached to the approval, included lowering a solar chimney above the lift overrun on the building’s roof. 

Islington Council has been approached for comment.

 

  • 11 Comments

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Readers' comments (11)

  • Hurrah !
    Islington planning should be ashamed of itself.

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  • The sensible and balanced decision of the Inspector, as reported, restores one's faith in the planning system. Whatever one may think about the highly self-conscious artifice brought to the built scheme, this in no way justifies demolition of the building. Islington's actions in this matter smack of subjective taste, and this has no place in planning terms in a city such as London.

    Alan Power - Alan Power Architects Ltd

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  • Halleluiah! Shame about the Condition though - it's not a dressed-stone building; at present the facades are a whimsical but complete expression of the early stages of the 'winning' of the stone and preparing it to size for building. 'Tooling' the sawn surfaces would therefore be an anomaly. Just let it weather in the usual way!

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  • Reading further, the Inspector required the practice to "tool the ’sawn faces’ of the columns and beams on the Clerkenwell Court elevation, which he said were ‘intrusive and prominent’."

    Is this part of the new Ministerium für Wahrheit und Schönheit ? (Ministry of Truth and Beaty).
    I thought Inspectors ruled on matters of law, not with their own aesthetic preferences.
    If Amin Taha can stomach another appeal, he should try to reverse that.
    At least just not bother doing the work.

    After Brexit there will be such a Shitstorm (German word) that no-one will worry whether some stone work somewhere has been chiselled or sawn.

    Just like Corb losing that competition because he used Chinese ink rather than Indian ink for the drawings.

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  • Alan Powers, did you not notice that the rough faces on the stonework have to be taken off and made smooth, being judged intrusive by the inspector. So an innovative design, which like many of Taha's is not for repeating, but as a stand alone is quirky and representative of our culture, has to be neutered because it is judged too dominant. I detect "dominant" as a euphemism for "offends a minority". In an open society some will always be offended, and they have to learn to deal with it. The planning system is becoming too intolerant and imposing mediocrity in its drive for blancmange solutions.

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  • Chris Roche

    The Inspector's decision is welcome and must be a huge relief for the architect owner and local community. The decision though does not give the architect back his time and expense fighting a needless and controversial decision. Islington Council need to be held responsible financially and obliged to compensate the architect for all the damage this has caused and the individuals within the Council need to resign for their wrong interpretation of planning law and for wasting public funds in fighting this case. Maybe the architect could "crowd-fund" the legal costs of taking action against the Council - not just for their wrongful actions but also the resultant damage to the architects reputation and commercial standing.

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  • testing

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  • The planning kerfuffle over this building seems to have been centred entirely on the appearance of the front elevation, but there's surely another issue - illustrated in Richard Waite's piece on 1st October last year in the AJ - that needs addressed.
    A photograph taken from further along the street clearly shows how the exoskeleton has been built in front of what could reasonably be assumed to be the building line, with the facade itself on that line.
    The new building looks for all the world like a massive Stone Age gantry crane that could slide down the neighbouring row, and maybe the frame is built on the line of a basement that projects beneath the pavement, rather than on the previous building line?
    If so (and I couldn't find any picture of the previous building on the site) is this setting a precedent for other, less scrupulous, people to argue the case for encroaching on the street with new developments?
    London property prices being what they are, could this open the way to a lot of very contentious proposals that would do nothing but damage to the architecture of their setting?

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  • Dear Robert,

    You wrote previously on the position of stone columns setting an unwanted precedent for landowners, architecture and its setting. The precedent set by Soane in "Ugliness and Judgement" by Timothy Hyde (Princeton University Press) may, therefore, be of interest. On completing the remodelling of his home at Lincoln's Inn Fields a letter was sent to the press and magistrates demanding the "new-fangled eyesore of a stone projection" be pulled down as it destroyed the uniformity and building line of its neighbours. The objector, a self-described "ambulator" campaigned until the matter ended in the courts in Soane's favour. Anything up to the property boundary line (pavement side of the lightwell) is a property owner's right to build up to. On the matter of design, it is correct he does not conform to the uniformity with neighbours but should he? Are they of such merit or is it desirous to do so, who is to decide? Judges sensibly decided it should be the choice of the private property owner, not an ambulator nor a group of them especially as his neighbours had no objection.

    Fitting in, conforming to perceived norms is a perennial topic. Do walk Clerkenwell Close and its adjacent streets. You'll find our basement (property boundary) projects beyond the columns and adjacent building lines dating from the medieval to C20th step in and out creating a norm of misalignment in plan and roofline that gives and maintains Clerkenwell's character of incremental growth and change. A celebration of diversity not a fixed master-planned set of streets with well-intentioned but perhaps questionable Byelaws demanding maintained conformity (such restrictions do exist).

    On a more technical level, the columns being peristyle not engaged will inevitably be proud of the building/enclosure line. This is an architectural standard with practical purposes to create clear environmental separation. Here, the party-wall part is the edge of thermal and weathering enclosure line, stone columns are disengaged, projected and tied back to support the floor slabs with thermal isolators at the envelope line; eliminating window reveals, sills and the need for cavity walls. Reducing material and construction cost and in turn lowering the carbon footprint of the superstructure, envelope and lowering the risk of detail junction failures for weathering and heat loss. Using contemporary technologies (structural nylon bar, glue and steel composite fixings across this line) with stone columns that are essentially a millennia-old construction and architectural compositional method. As old as the continuing arguments on how to integrate and fit in.

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  • I understand that a Councillor Martin Kluke led the call for demolition of Amin's much-praised building? If so, is this the same person who on LinkedIn is an architectural technologist at AHMM, and who says in his profile he is spending quite a lot of his spare time as a councillor? If so, this seems weird to me and somewhat disturbing.

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