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Weekend roundup: There’ll be no human warehouses on our watch

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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Haringey rejects Ben Adams Architects PDR office-to-resi scheme • Manchester seeks to halt co-housing developments • Rory Stewart weighs in on bell foundry row • AHMM reports record turnover

Haringey Council has thrown out Ben Adams Architects’ controversial office-to-resi conversion, described as a ‘human warehouse’ because of the very tiny floor sizes – as low as 16m² for the smallest flats.

Which is interesting because the conversion was submitted under the permitted development rights (PDR) rules, which allow schemes to bypass most planning regulations. The exemption was introduced under the excuse of boosting housing supply, though the poor quality of much of the arising developments has led to them being described as ‘slums of the future’.

Ben Adams’ 11-storey Alexandra House scheme had received 84 planning objections, concerned not only about the size of the units, but also related to mental-health and sanitation consequences of overcrowding. But under PDR, the council cannot take any of these reasons into consideration.

Instead, its decision has primarily been based on the rather arcane suggestion that the plans lack details and fail to show that the units can be reasonably described as a ‘dwelling house’. Case law appears to suggest that the essential characteristic of a dwelling house is that it includes ‘the facilities required for day-to-day private domestic existence’.

This may not prove an insurmountable obstacle for the developer since presumably it would not be hard to resubmit the plans showing far more detail. Moreover, Bartlett professor Ben Clifford told the AJ that other local councils had attempted this approach to stop PDR schemes only to see refusals overturned on appeal.

The council also cited ‘a lack of information in respect of potential contamination, transport and noise impacts’. Again, this could all prove to be no more than delaying tactics, though it might at the very least concentrate the minds of the developer and architect as to exactly what kind of homes they are creating.

It may transpire that Haringey is fighting a losing battle but it is admirable that they are at least putting up some kind of fight.

Giving an idea of what happens when PDR schemes go unchallenged, the Guardian reports this week on an existing scheme in Croydon. It contains six flats in the building’s basement, some of which rely on lightwells or high-level windows for their natural light with no proper views of the outside world. They are also below minimum space standards, while one tenant tells of the charming phenomenon of raw sewage seeping from the shower on more than one occasion.

Croydon Council confirmed that under PDR, poor natural light is not a valid ground for objection.

Manchester puts the brakes on co-living sector

Echo street 2

Echo street 2

Manchester City Council wants to restrict the development of co-living projects. Such projects comprise clusters of flats that share communal spaces and amenities, and critics have described them as glorified university dormitories.

A recent council report said it was concerned that the housing model was ‘untested’ and argued it is inappropriate to approve a significant level of co-living accommodation. It also noted that co-living had taken off in London because the market there is so squeezed, but that Manchester did not face the same pressures.

Sheppard Robson has designed the city’s first co-living scheme, Echo Street (pictured), which combines 642 co-living bedrooms with 242 student bedrooms. It is scheduled to complete in 2022. Meanwhile, a 2,204-bed co-living scheme by Simpson Haugh is reported to be set to go for planning.

London mayoral candidate hears the bells calling

Rory crop bell foundry 2

Rory crop bell foundry 2

A scheme to redevelop the site of a disused bell foundry in east London might not seem the most contentious of projects, but it seems to have exercised the minds of many, including one-time wannabe Tory leader Rory Stewart

Having recently failed to become prime minister, Stewart was one of the 21 MPs to lose the Conservative whip after voting to try and avoid a no-deal Brexit. He subsequently quit the party and announced his intention to run for London mayor as an independent candidate. 

Now having seen the political failure of every single one of those Tory rebels who attempted to retain their seats in last week’s election – with those who quit earlier to join the Independent Group meeting a similar fate – he may have felt it was time to urgently raise his profile. 

Has he found a cause célèbre in 31/44 Architects’ proposal for the Grade II*-listed Whitechapel Bell Foundry?  

The scheme adds a boutique hotel to the site as well as new public spaces, a café, workspace and artists’ studios. It also involves restoring the foundry building and introducing small-scale bell casting. 

Stewart said he thought the scheme was an unimaginative use of the site and is backing a group that wants to operate a full-scale working bell foundry there.  

He also decried the idea of maximising the site’s value by building a hotel rather than considering the site ‘in terms of social value for the community’. Quite a novel take for a one-time Tory.  

Tower Hamlets Council received more than 750 objections to the plans, and only approved them by way of the development committee chair’s casting vote. The project is also opposed by the UK Historic Buildings Preservation Trust, an industrial heritage group founded by Prince Charles; though it is backed by Historic England. 

Last month, housing secretary Robert Jenrick issued a holding directive on the scheme, temporarily halting work until he considers whether to carry out a full review. 

The good times keep rolling for AHMM

Ahmm richmond house

Ahmm richmond house

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris has posted a record £44.2 million turnover – an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year and not an airport project in sight. It marks continued growth for the architect, which the year before saw turnover rise by 13 per cent. In 2018, its results showed operating profit before tax fall from £3.9 million to £900,000, but this has now risen to £1.6 million.

The company is run as an employee-owned trust and as a result, all eligible staff will receive a profit-share payout equal to 9 per cent of their annual earnings.

The practice was founded 30 years ago and has steadily grown while maintaining a reputation for high-quality architecture. Its Burntwood School in south-west London won the Stirling Prize in 2015. Just 10 years ago, it was at number 35 in the AJ100, employing 55 architects, with a turnover of £9.1 million. This year’s rankings showed it as the UK’s fourth-largest practice, with 266 architects on its books and 429 permanent staff in total.

Current projects include the controversial temporary chamber and offices for MPs (pictured) during the refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament. The scheme involves the demolition of much of the Grade II-listed Richmond House, designed by Whitfield Partners in the early 1980s. 

Quiz time

Father christmas

Father christmas

Have you been paying attention to the big architecture stories this year? Then have a crack at my Christmas quiz, and find out if you’re an Esther McVey or a Mikhail Riches. Click here.

Poll: What would you most like for Christmas?
• A lucrative airport commission
• A Stirling Prize nomination
• Freedom of movement within the EU
• A terrazzo plant stand
Vote here 

Last week’s poll asked: What is the main upside of this week’s Tory landslide. 4% were heartened by a possible revival of the Garden Bridge; 6% were hoping for more investment in infrastructure; while 25% welcomed an end to Brexit uncertainty. But an overwhelming 65% said there was no upside.

The Weekend Roundup is taking a Christmas break and will be back in the new year. Have a lovely Christmas.

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