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MP: 'Decision on Mt Pleasant should be stripped from mayor'

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Islington MP Emily Thornberry has called on Eric Pickles to call in the Mount Pleasant scheme and take it out of the Mayor Of London Boris Johnson’s hands.

In a strongly worded letter sent to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Shadow Attorney General accused Johnson of prejudicing his position as ‘planning authority’ on the scheme after ‘speaking glowingly’ about the project.

In the letter, which was also sent to Prime Minister David Cameron, Johnson and the Mount Pleasant Association, Thornberry said: ‘Given his series of reckless public statements, indicating his apparent intention to grant permission without bothering to understand the plans, it seems to me that the Mayor of London has prejudiced his position.

‘I do not think that he should be entrusted with the responsibility of making the final decision on this vitally important site. I would urge you to step in before it is too late, and I hope that you will now be able to assure me that the Mayor of London will recuse himself from deciding this planning application.’

Johnson was accused of favouritism last month when he praised the scheme, calling it a ‘beautiful design’ during a debate over the future of London’s housing.

The Mayor, who called in the plans for the Royal Mail site at the request of Royal Mail Group (RMG), stating that the decision needed ‘speeding up’, has a legal obligation as the planning authority presiding over the scheme to remain neutral.

Speaking about the Mayor’s actions in the letter Thornberry said: ‘It has been clear from the start that the Mayor has already made up his mind to grant the developers permission to go ahead with their scheme – he told Assembly members in February that this was case of “bourgeois nimbys trying to stop good developments from going ahead”, and last week he said that the proposed Mount Pleasant development was “a beautiful design…It will be a wonderful place to live”.

‘However, it appears that Boris has failed to understand the plans – he said that Mount Pleasant would deliver “thousands of homes for Londoners” – the actual total on the plans is 681. Only 12 per cent are currently destined for social rent, and there can be no guarantee that any of the other 88 per cent would actually provide homes for Londoners.’

Since it was unveiled in 2012 the 680-home scheme by AHMM, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Wilkinson Eyre and Allies & Morrison has become one of the most fiercely contested housing schemes in London.

The plan for the former Royal Mail sorting office was rejected unanimously by both Islington and Camden Councils and has been criticised for the high density of the development and the fact it will provide only around 12 per cent affordable housing.

Representatives from Royal Mail and planning consultants DP9 met with campaign group the Mount Pleasant Association (MPA) for the first time yesterday [July 9th] after alternative proposals drawn up by architect Sir Francis Terry were revealed by the Archiects Journal.

Edward Denison, secretary of the Mount Pleasant Association and lecturer at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, said: ‘After two years of silence, the Royal Mail’s planners DP9 have at last approached the MPA with a request to meet.’

The MPA, which represents five communities surrounding the Royal Mail site secured a meeting within hours of revealing their alternative plans for the site. Prior to that the group had spent two years of silence from Royal Mail over their opposition to housing scheme.

Previous story: (AJ 08.07.14)

Francis Terry launches rival design for Mount Pleasant housing scheme

Classical architect Francis Terry has challenged Allies and Morrison, Wilkinson Eyre, FCBS and AHMM ‘fortress’ with alternative designs for the Royal Mail site

Campaigners fighting plans for a major London housing scheme designed by Allies and Morrison, Wilkinson Eyre, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris have brought in the Neo-classical architect Francis Terry to work up an audacious rival proposal.

The redevelopment by Royal Mail of its Mount Pleasant sorting office site in Clerkenwell, one of the largest remaining brownfield sites in central London, proposes 680 homes in 10 buildings designed by the four practices.

Since being unveiled in 2012, the plan has faced fierce opposition from local residents unhappy with its ‘fortress-like’ layout. The scheme is currently being considered by London mayor Boris Johnson, who called in the project in January.

Now Terry has revealed an alternative ‘Mount Pleasant Circus and Fleet Valley Gardens’ design (above) drawn up with built environment lobbyist Create Streets, which is working on behalf of residents’ action group the Mount Pleasant Association.

The architect, who, with his father, runs Quinlan & Francis Terry Architects, famously had a hand in derailing Richard Rogers’ scheme for Chelsea Barracks after sketching an alternative design seized upon by the scheme’s arch-opponent, Prince Charles.

Terry said: ‘I did [intervene in] Chelsea Barracks a while ago so I was interested in trying to do something civic and helpful for the oppressed locals here.’

In February, designer Thomas Heatherwick branded the existing Mount Pleasant plan ‘empty, cynical and vacuous’ and, despite a subsequent climbdown by Heatherwick, Terry said he agreed with this.

He said: ‘I echo Tom’s view. The reason people like London is because of areas like Farringdon; but the current proposal is just like any other city.’

Create Streets, which campaigns for conventional terraced streets and insists it has no style agenda, argues that Terry’s plan is proving highly popular with locals and would deliver 730 homes – 7 per cent more than the existing scheme – and greater value for the taxpayer, given that it has a 30 per cent stake in Royal Mail.

It says research by leading urban planning consultant Space Syntax demonstrates the new proposal would create pedestrian routes 75 per cent more accessible than the Royal Mail plan.

Edward Denison, secretary of the Mount Pleasant Association, said: ‘We have said: “Look at the logical routes people would take going from Hackney to Soho and from Bloomsbury to Clerkenwell – it’s the planning brief for the site which needs to be challenged”.’

The association also complained to the GLA and DCLG this week after claiming that the mayor had unfairly predetermined his planning decision on the Mount Pleasant scheme by publicly calling it ‘a beautiful design’ and ‘a wonderful place to live’.

Royal Mail group property director Martin Gafsen said: ‘Royal Mail’s proposed scheme to redevelop parts of its Mount Pleasant site will create up to 680 new homes, including the maximum reasonable proportion of affordable housing and create publicly accessible open space, new thoroughfares and jobs.’

Allies and Morrison and AHMM declined to comment. The other project architects were unavailable to comment.

Previous story (AJ 30.06.14)

Boris accused of bias over Mount Pleasant overhaul

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been accused of bias following his comments praising the controversial Mount Pleasant scheme in central London.

Johnson, who has called in the scheme, has been accused of favouritism after he said the scheme was ‘a beautiful design’ and ‘a wonderful place to live’.

Speaking at the LBC ‘State of London’ debate on June 25 at the O2 Johnson said: ‘Every week I get the Islington Tribune denouncing me for trying to get some scheme going at Mount Pleasant which will deliver thousands of homes for Londoner’s because they don’t like it because they don’t like the design.

‘We can’t have it all ways, we can’t insist that we build rows of thatched cottages and simultaneously

‘Sometimes my colleagues in the boroughs can be a little bit slow in getting things off the ground.’

Considered one of the biggest housing developments in central London, the 680-home scheme by AHMM, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Wilkinson Eyre and Allies & Morrison. was rejected unanimously by both Islington and Camden Councils. It has been criticised for the high density of the development and the fact it will provide only around 12 per cent affordable housing.

Johnson has a legal obligation as the planning authority presiding over the scheme to remain neutral. The Mayor called in the £100m development stating that the decision needed speeding up.

Residents in Clerkenwell have stated that the Mayor has ignored their calls that the scheme could be disastrous.

Edward Denison, secretary of the Mount Pleasant Association has called the Mayor of pre-determining’ the decision over the scheme.

Speaking to the Islington Tribune, Jenette Arnold, London Assembly member for Islington said that Johnson was ‘deaf to our pleadings and blind to our lives.

‘This man does not know what being objective is.’

The Mount Pleasant scheme has attracted criticism from both architects and designers. Earlier this year designer Thomas Heathewick called the scheme ‘empty, cynical and vacuous’

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