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Jenrick overrules planning inspector and approves PLP’s £1bn Westferry Printworks

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Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has granted permission to PLP’s £1 billion Westferry Printworks scheme, despite its being slated by experts, including his own planning inspector

The scheme is for developer, media tycoon-turned-property developer Richard Desmond, who now has permission to build a 1,524-home community with shops, banks, bars, offices and restaurants on the Isle of Dogs site in east London.

The scheme includes five stepped towers – the largest standing at 44 storeys – which provide a total of 282 affordable homes alongside market-price housing.

Desmond launched an appeal for the scheme in April last year following Tower Hamlets Council’s non-determination of his application. 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).

An earlier proposal for the site, also by PLP, featured just 772 homes and was given planning permission by Boris Johnson in his last week as mayor of London in 2016. 

Following a 12-day planning inquiry in August and September, veteran planning inspector David Prentis published a damning 141-page report which heavily criticised the latest designs. Prentis advised Jenrick not to give the scheme planning permission, concluding:

  • It would ‘fail to preserve’ the setting of Tower Bridge, the Grade I-listed Old Royal Naval College and the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site
  • It would ‘be harmful to the character and appearance of the area’
  • It would ‘be harmful to the recreational use of Millwall Outer Dock for sailing’, due to its effect on the microclimate and wind turbulence
  • It would ‘not provide the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing’
  • That conflicts with the local development plan ‘are of such significance that the proposal should be regarded as being in conflict with the development plan as a whole’.

In its submission to Prentis, the GLA added: ‘Insufficient attention has been paid to any factor other than seeking to maximise the amount of market housing in the scheme’.

And it said that one of the key factors ignored in the ‘overweening ambition’ of the applicant was ‘making good places for people to live in’.

Tower Hamlets also slated the scheme in its submission to Prentis, saying the scheme ‘breached virtually all the design principles identified in the development plan’.

But in a letter sent this week to planning consultant DP9, which is working with PLP and Desmond, a spokesperson for Jenrick said the secretary of state ‘disagrees with the inspector’s conclusions and disagrees with his recommendation’.

While Jenrick agreed with many of the points raised by Prentis, the spokesperson said, he found that ‘the identified harms when taken together are outweighed by the benefits of the proposal in terms of additional housing units [compared to the earlier consented scheme] and additional employment during construction’.

The decision will be a boon for PLP, which made seven redundancies last year and told the AJ it was facing ‘a challenging and uncertain time’.

The practice saw a 3.5 per cent drop in its turnover last year. Work on its 278m-tall City of London tower, 22 Bishopsgate, is due to finish later this year. 

PLP Westferry revised scheme September 2018

PLP Westferry revised scheme September 2018

PLP Westferry revised scheme September 2018

Extracts from Jenrick’s approval letter

The secretary of state agrees with the inspector that, so far as its height, mass and scale are concerned, the proposal would not be consistent with the ’step down’ approach contained in the development plan and emerging policy as it would be seen from various viewpoints as an extension of the Canary Wharf cluster or as a new and separate cluster of tall buildings. The secretary of state agrees with the inspector that the proposal would have an adverse impact in terms of the transition in scale to the adjoining residential areas to the north of the site and to the south of Millwall Outer Dock [and] that there would be an adverse impact on the street scene of Westferry Road.

However, in assessing the degree of harm caused in this respect, the secretary of state notes that the proposal would be located in a Tall Building Zone (TBZ) to which the development of tall buildings is directed by [the local authority’s emerging policy]. While the secretary of state agrees with the inspector that the designation as a TBZ does not mean that buildings of any height would be acceptable and that the [local council] continues the ’stepping down’ approach, it remains the case that significant changes in building heights are to be expected in this location.

Further, the secretary of state considers that the spacing between the proposed towers assists in reducing their harmful impact by providing a transition in urban grain, if only in certain views and not in other views.

The secretary of state agrees that the design includes attractive features, including the attractive composition of the five towers when seen from a distance. While the secretary of state agrees with the inspector that design must be considered holistically and that the design of the towers is not of itself a benefit in the planning balance, this factor nonetheless reduces the degree of harm caused by the scheme. In its context and by comparison with the quantum of development already approved, taking all of the above into account, the harm to the character and appearance of the area identified above carries moderate weight in the planning balance, in the judgment of the secretary of state.

The secretary of state has considered the inspector’s analysis of the effects of the proposals on the setting and significance of Tower Bridge. He agrees with the inspector for the reasons given that the proposal would fail to preserve the setting of Tower Bridge because it would distract from the ability to appreciate the listed building in six views from London Bridge and agrees that this would amount to ‘less than substantial’ harm.

The secretary of state agrees with the inspector that considerable importance and weight should be given to this harm. [However] this ‘less than substantial’ harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Has Desmond become a Tory party donor again, anyone know?

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  • This decision is toxic - for 'public benefits' read cynical political advantage, at the behest of a developer of dubious integrity and some very short term employment benefits.
    If this decision sets a precedent for the attitude of Mr Jenrick et al for the rest of this government's term then we might be seeing a great deal of harm done to both our built environment and the notion of 'public benefits'.

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