From the Geffrye to South Bank, don’t blame the planners for planning decision madness, writes Paul Finch
Take a simple regeneration scheme in Tottenham: housing and retail uses, contextual, but which involves demolishing some lacklustre 19th century housing with chimneys removed and crude roofing revisions. Needless to say, after nearly a decade of nonsense, no start is anticipated in the near future, even though the proposal, in different guises, has twice had planning permission.
The latest delay has been caused by Liberal Democrat councillors, who, I hope, will lose their seats the next time London elections come round. They had scuppered an earlier scheme after a judge ruled that, because not every ethnic minority group had been consulted, the planning permission was invalid - though there was no criticism of the proposal itself. When it was resubmitted, with 100 per cent consultation, it was refused!
This time, after a five-hour planning meeting which ended at half past midnight, despite only having to deal with this redesigned proposal for the same site, another permission was granted. Lib Dems claim that the new proposal is not different enough from the refused scheme to warrant the granting of permission, and are now trying to get the latest permission overturned.
In January, a judge rejected their application for judicial review. Two weeks ago, at an oral hearing, another judge rejected all four grounds given for review. Now the Lib Dems (this is being done on legal aid by the way, presumably by finding some local person with no money to front the action) have submitted an application to the Court of Appeal. Every time I hear Nick Clegg or Vince Cable droning on about growth, I think about the outrageous behaviour of their councillors on the ground. A plague on them.
Elsewhere in the wacky world of planning, we have moronic Hackney Council refusing permission for the David Chipperfield Geffrye Museum scheme, thereby jeopardising National Lottery funding and putting the whole enterprise at risk. Planning officers were recommending approval. Conservationists had done their bit for the future by their insistence that a former pub (not used for 20 years) is critical to the future of civilisation. This has echoes of the story described above, which involves demolition of a redundant department store, not used as such since the early 1970s
So we have a Stuart Hall situation in reverse: architects are being accused of interfering with the old.
The Twentieth Century Society is doing its bit to muddy the waters down on the South Bank by claiming that the Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios scheme, adding impressive ‘liner’ volumes alongside and above the Hayward Gallery complex, will ‘destroy’ views. I think they mean provide new ones. What is the matter with these people? All the buildings on the South Bank changed views irrevocably. All buildings do, except when you go underground.
The irony is that few of the buildings conservationists get all weepy about would get planning permission today. Brutalist concrete with walkways? Forget it. Westminster Council would certainly not permit a Centre Point or Millbank Tower. Tower Bridge would be regarded by Unesco as a gross insult to the Tower of London ‘world heritage site’, and any bridge would probably be refused because it would encourage vehicular activity, or whatever jargon they use these days to describe traffic.
We are rapidly reaching the point where no one can demolish anything, which brings us back to the Add-Plan concept described in this column last week. The heritage brigade would love the idea of zero demolition and, of course, would be devastated by as-of-right permission to build above and beyond. But, as they say, grief is the price you pay for love.