Planning consent for a £1 billion scheme designed by PLP has been quashed after the local authority accused housing secretary Robert Jenrick of being biased towards developer and tycoon Richard Desmond
Jenrick granted permission for the Westferry Printworks development on 14 January, despite it being heavily criticised by Tower Hamlets, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the government’s own planning inspector.
The scheme, which was brought forward by media tycoon-turned-property developer Richard Desmond, included 1,524 homes as well as shops, banks, bars and offices on the Isle of Dogs site in east London.
But the government has admitted Jenrick’s decision was unlawful after the local authority, Tower Hamlets Council, launched legal proceedings in March.
Tower Hamlets alleged that the timing of Jenrick’s decision demonstrated his bias in favour of granting permission to the scheme, as consent was given one day before the council’s revised Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) rates came into force.
The council asked the High Court to order the government to disclose documents that it said would show Jenrick was influenced by a desire to help the developer save between £30 and £50 million by avoiding the new charges.
However, according to the council: ‘Faced with the prospect of having to release documentation relating to the decision, the secretary of state chose to allow the planning permission to be quashed.’
John Biggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: ‘We may never know what emails and memos the secretary of state received before making his decision and what influence they had, but his reluctance to disclose them speaks volumes.
‘In siding with the developer, he went against not only the planning inspector but also the council’s Strategic Development Committee and the residents whose lives would be directly impacted by this scheme.
He added: ‘We will continue to press for a scheme that meets the needs of the community on the Isle of Dogs in terms of height and density, the provision of adequate affordable housing and infrastructure delivery.’
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said: ‘While we reject the suggestion that there was any actual bias in the decision, we have agreed that the application will be redetermined.’
PLP’s now-rejected scheme included five stepped towers – the largest standing at 44 storeys – which would have provided 282 affordable homes alongside 1,242 market homes.
It followed an earlier application for just 722 PLP-designed homes on the site, which was approved by Boris Johnson during his last week in office as Mayor of London.
The latest version of the scheme was criticised by the planning inspector for reasons including damage to heritage assets, its harmful effect on the character of the area, its lack of affordable housing and the fact it was ‘in conflict with the [local] development plan as a whole’.
The GLA, which also launched legal action against the government following Jenrick’s shock decision to grant planning consent, previously accused the developer of paying ‘insufficient attention to any factor other than seeking to maximise the amount of market housing’.
The GLA has now dropped its legal action and Jules Pipe, deputy mayor for planning and regeneration, said he was ‘very pleased’ that planning consent had been quashed.
He added: ’We remain concerned about the scale of the scheme and its proposed development of locally-designated open space. We expect any future decision by ministers to take all our concerns into account’.