London Mayor Boris Johnson has stepped in to decide the future of contentious proposals drawn up by an AHMM-led team for the historic Norton Folgate neighbourhood on the City fringe
In July, members of Tower Hamlets Council’s strategic development committee went against its own officers’ advice to approve the 32,550m2 scheme backed by British Land, which would have seen parts of the Elder Street conservation area demolished.
The office-led proposals, which include 40 homes and was designed with Duggan Morris, DSDHA and Stanton Williams, had come in for heavy criticism from local campaigners and conservationists, including the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust, led by architectural critic and television presenter Dan Cruickshank (AJ 06.08.15).
However council officers subsequently said the decision to reject the proposals would be ‘difficult to defend’ and British Land made it clear that it was considering its options over the scheme, which it refers to as Blossom Street.
Now the London Mayor has written to Tower Hamlets informing the authority that he will use powers granted to him under the Town & Country Planing Act 1990 to decide the scheme himself. Johnson used the same powers to approve proposals to redevelop the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant delivery centre after deciding that local planning authorities Islington and Camden were not processing the proposals quickly enough.
In a letter to Tower Hamlets, Johnson said his decision was based on the impact the scheme would have on office-space targets in the London Plan, the fact that it would affect more than one borough, and because he believed there were ‘sound planning reasons’ for the intervention.
‘Recent trends have seen a decline in the delivery of new office floorspace within the borough and I note that the council is currently falling below its target for the provision of employment floorspace,’ he said.
‘It is important that strategic office development in suitable but finite Central Activities Zone and City fringe locations such as this are delivered in order to support London’s globally competitive business cluster while promoting growth.’
AHMM director Paul Monaghan welcomed Johnson’s decision to take over the scheme’s determination.
‘We are pleased that the mayor has decided to intervene at Blossom Street. It’s good that he’s recognised that this important site needs mostly employment use. Our scheme delivers this and more,’ he said.
British Land head of developments Nigel Webb, said it was appropriate for Johnson to look again at the application to ‘ensure all the arguments are properly considered’.
‘The majority of the Blossom Street site has an existing planning permission from 2011,’ he said. ‘This could be implemented now, but we have improved on this consent through engagement with the local community, and we hope the mayor will understand the considerable merits of our scheme.
‘This is a heritage-led development in a conservation area which will integrate with and enhance its surroundings, at the same time as providing an environment in which the tech and creative sector can flourish and grow.’
Johnson’s decision on Norton Folgate will be made after a yet-to-be scheduled public hearing on the scheme. The Mount Pleasant scheme was approved after a City Hall hearing in October last year that lasted around two hours.
Previous story: (AJ 24.08.15)