The City of London Corporation has turned down an audacious offer by conservation campaigners to buy land earmarked for a controversial development scheme by AHMM, Duggan Morris, DSDHA and Stanton Williams in the Norton Folgate area of east London
Last week the Spitalfield Trust wrote to the Corporation offering to pay more for the site than the deal it has agreed with developer British Land which is developing contentious plans for an intensive office-led scheme.
However, the trust’s hopes of implementing an alternative plan drawn up with Burrell Foley Fischer Architects - and backed by Danish billionaire financier Troels Holch Povlsen - look to have been scuppered by the City.
A letter from Alistair Moss, chairman of the corporation’s property investment board to the trust, said: ‘You will be aware that the City of London Corporation has a contract with British Land in respect of this site, which followed a competitive tender process in 2013, and as such the property is not available for any alternative transaction.
‘Consequently we will not be able to take forward your investor’s interest in this property.’
He added that, although the current plans had been rejected by the area’s planning authority Tower Hamlets, the ‘high quality architecture and heritage sensitive nature of British Land’s plans’ would meet significant demand for space in the area from occupiers including media and tech companies.
The trust said its rival proposals would have created reasonably priced office space, affordable housing, while retaining the historic grain of the site (pictured below).
The Spitalfields Trusts’ proposals for Norton Folgate
A statement from the trust said: ‘The scheme would also offer locally focused employment and a far better mix of affordable and private housing, at the same time as revitalizing the area, at a fraction of the cost, in a sympathetic and sustainable manner.’
London mayor Boris Johnson is set to make a decision on British Land’s planning application later today (18 January).
Heritage campaigners have mounted a legal challenge to Boris Johnson’s decision to call in controversial plans by AHMM, Duggan Morris, DSDHA and Stanton Williams to overhaul Norton Folgate area in east London
The London mayor intervened in September, two months after Tower Hamlets’ councillors threw out the 32,550m² Blossom Street plans by developer British Land, against an officer recommendation to approve the scheme.
But now campaign group Spitalfields Trust, which has been fighting a high-profile battle against the City fringe development, is challenging the mayor’s decision to call in the scheme, citing ‘procedural irregularities’ in court documents applying for a judicial review of the procedure.
The trust believes that GLA officers could not have properly considered documents relating to the case, having taken just 24 hours to decide to call in the application.
A statement from the trust said: ‘The decision of Tower Hamlets Council to refuse the application was referred to the GLA in a letter sent by the council on 9 September 2015, and noted by the GLA as received on 10 September, together with a substantial bundle of documents, including all the papers relating to the determination of a case that had taken eight months to resolve, and 550 letters of objection.
‘The GLA officers were required to read all these documents, to address the application neutrally and objectively, and without prejudgment, and the mayor had 14 days to reach a decision.
‘GLA officers could not conceivably have read the relevant papers’
‘Instead, they sent an email to British Land’s consultants at 10.48am on 10 September – before they could conceivably have read the relevant papers – assuring them that the mayor intended to call in the application.’
In its court papers, the trust also set out three other grounds for deeming the call-in decision unlawful: that the mayor failed to have regard for the trust’s challenge that the statutory criteria for his intervention were not met; that the mayor erred in law by overstating the impact of the scheme on the implementation of the London Plan, particularly with regard to Crossrail; and that the mayor erred in law in incorrectly assessing the impact on more than one London borough.
In response, a spokesman for Johnson said: ‘The mayor believes that he has followed the proper process and is resisting the proceedings lodged by the Spitalfields Trust.’
It is was confirmed that Johnson would proceed with a planned meeting next Monday (18 January) to consider the scheme, before making his eventual decision.
The statement continued: ‘The mayor has called in only 13 of 2,300 planning applications received since 2008, which reflects the fact he only intervenes when absolutely necessary and when it is of strategic importance to London.’
‘The trust has no grounds on which to make an application for judicial review’
A statement on behalf of British Land said: ‘We believe that the trust has no grounds on which to make an application for judicial review of the mayor’s decision but, pending a definitive court ruling on the judicial review – and the court still has to determine whether there is an arguable case – we would expect the mayor to proceed with the representation hearing scheduled for 18 January at City Hall the purpose of which is to determine whether to grant planning permission.’
In November the developer agreed to amend its original proposals in a bid to resolve the planning dispute. The revised scheme retains two 19th-century warehouse blocks at the heart of the project (12 and 13 Blossom Street) previously earmarked for a major overhaul.
However, objectors remained unconvinced by the revisions, saying the redesign represented only a ‘relatively minor amendment’ (see AJ 25.11.15).