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City to the rescue in Bishopsgate tower right-to-light fight

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The City of London has agreed to buy a stake in a contentious skyscraper to save it from the ‘significant threat’ of right-to-light legal claims

The local authority sanctioned its acquisition of an interest in the PLP Architecture-designed 22 Bishopsgate development – which includes a 62-storey tower – at a council meeting yesterday (5 April).

Council papers recommending the unusual move, say that the authority had the power to acquire an interest in the development using sections 227 and 237 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, which override certain rights of third parties where land is acquired by a local authority for planning purposes.

The power effectively prevents neighbouring property owners from blocking the project in the courts, and will allow work to start on the replacement for the aborted Helter Skelter skyscraper.

According to the papers, the move was considered by the council at the request of the developers, Lipton Rogers and Axa Real Estate, which had warned that right-to-light claims presented a ‘significant threat to progressing the scheme’.

‘There are a large number of affected owners who have rights of light interests and may wish to maintain actionable claims,’ the papers state. ‘There is therefore concern that the development programme is at risk due to the inability to settle remaining rights of light claims with the prospect that those with relevant interests may be able to pursue injunctive relief.’

The developers had warned the council that pushing the project’s start date back from this month would put investors’ commitment at risk.

‘Investors have made it clear that full financial commitments will not be provided while there are injunction risks,’ the council papers state.

‘The timing aims to ensure completion to meet projected office demand during 2018-19. It is highly unlikely agreement would be reached with all 94 affected owners in a timeframe that enables the development to be carried out for 2019 completion.’

The City of London said that the move would be ‘in the public interest’, arguing that the partially constructed stump of the abandoned Helter Skelter scheme on the site could not be ’beneficially used or occupied’.

The decision to buy a stake in the development had been originally scheduled for 10 March but was delayed following significant resistance from landowners whose properties’ access to light will be affected.

In one letter from 7 March by legal giant Eversheds, the City of London was warned that its plans to acquire an interest in the development ‘would be unlawful’.

The firm is representing the Wardens and Society of the Mistery of Art of the Leathersellers of the City of London, which owns 25 properties that the letter claims will be ‘substantially affected’.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • So, if I read this correctly, the local authority thinks that minimising the financial risks to investors in a property development takes precedence over the rights to light of neighbouring properties.
    Surely the building and planning codes cover the validity of rights to light - and if PLP's design infringes the relevant standards, and the local authority responsible for policing the standards has chosen instead to overturn them, where does that leave Lipton Rogers, AXA Real Estate, and the the City of London - let alone PLP?
    I wonder if the original abandoned development on this site infringed rights to light - if not, is this a case of developers playing 'slowly slowly catchee monkey'?

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