Tower Hamlets Council has launched a legal challenge against housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s decision to grant planning permission to PLP’s £1 billion Westferry Printworks scheme in east London
The scheme includes five stepped towers, the largest standing at 44 storeys, which would provide 282 affordable homes alongside market-price housing.
The scheme is for Richard Desmond, property developer and former owner of Express Newspapers which used to be printed at the site. Desmond launched an appeal in April last year after Tower Hamlets Council took too long to take a decision over the project.
A month later the council voted to reject the scheme, which was also opposed by neighbouring Greenwich Council as well as the Greater London Authority (GLA).
A public inquiry later sided with the council and in a damning 141-page report recommended Desmond’s appeal should be dismissed. However, Jenrick disagreed and approved the application anyway.
Tower Hamlets is now seeking permission to challenge the decision ‘on the ground that it was biased and favoured the developer’.
It will argue the process Jenrick followed in determining his appeal was influenced by a desire to help the developer to avoid a financial liability, ‘notably the council’s revised Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges’.
The scheme was approved 24 hours before the council increased the levy it asks developers to pay for infrastructure, saving the developer between £30 and £50 million.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said: ’It is disappointing that we find ourselves in this position. In granting this appeal, the secretary of state went against the recommendations reached by a planning inspector after a lengthy public inquiry.
’We have concerns about the way he reached his decision and I hope the courts will now look closely at the circumstances. Our residents must be able to have confidence that where planning decisions are taken out of the hands of local authorities, robust and fair processes will be followed.’
An earlier proposal for the site, also designed by PLP, featured just 772 homes and was given planning permission by Boris Johnson in his last week as mayor of London in 2016.
The Ministry of Housing was approached for comment.