Friday, 25 July 2008

The games up. Hackney kicks Hammerson into touch.

OPEN’s campaign to Save Shoreditch from invasion by City office towers won an important victory at Hackney Town Hall on Thursday evening when objectors persuaded Planning Committee members not to approve the 51-storey Bishops Place tower block in south Shoreditch.

The Light before redevelopment

The scheme would have led to demolition of The Light, a landmark historic building standing at the gateway to Shoreditch from the City.

The Light extinguished after redevelopment

Save Shoreditch campaigner, Lucy Rogers, says: “We are delighted that councillors have rejected the plan to demolish the Light building, and that any new proposal must include its preservation. We welcome this brave decision that will protect Shoreditch and its character, and keep it distinct from the City.”

Committee members had been directed to disregard the fact that Hackney owns 85% of the land on the development site, and stands to make tens of millions under an purchase option agreement with Hammerson when a scheme eventually goes ahead.

Planning Committee members were unnerved when it became clear that independent consultants hired by Hackney had recommended that The Light should come under the protection of an expanded Conservation Area. It appeared that Hackney had convened the unscheduled Planning Committee meeting, after QC's advice, to ensure that Hammerson's redevelopment application was considered before the Council determines the new Conservation Area boundaries.

The committee deferred a decision on the Bishop’s Place scheme, telling the developers to scrap their current proposals and come up with an improved plan which preserves the 19th century building.

Objectors pointed out that local people would not benefit from the scheme which proposed only 11 (5%) flats for social rented housing and no affordable small business units. Hackney had negotiated a condition that Hammerson pay £14million for “off-site” social housing but the Council had already earmarked the cash for building affordable homes not in Shoreditch but in Dalston where the authorities towerblock scheme is looking rather wobbly. Hackney planned to rob Peter to pay Paul.

Councillors heard how the Council’s Head of Planning, who recommended approval of the scheme, had failed to properly advise the Committee of the overarching government policy guidance PPS1. This guidance concerns involving local communities in the planning process to ensure that development delivers inclusive opportunities for all whilst also protecting and enhancing the natural and historic environment. Hammerson claimed that they had been consulting the community for three years but objectors were left wondering who was being referred to.

Councillors also heard that the proposed skyscraper would be out of keeping with the scale and mass of the existing buildings in south Shoreditch and would destroy the character of the local area. The Chair of the South Shoreditch Conservation Area Advisory Committee objected that the scheme appeared to have been designed to create a “glass and steel barrier which turns its back on Shoreditch and which looks to the City”.

Despite the haste to have the application determined, Hammerson’s representative was unable to give any assurances that its proposed scheme would actually be built in the foreseeable future or that it would not demolish The Light even if the redevelopment did not proceed. Although the grant of planning permission would have increased Hammerson's site value, and deferral of it is a setback, it seems unlikely that it would then have signed up to Hackney deal at this stage.

Lucy Rogers reminded the Committee of all the local community organisations which are affiliated to OPEN's Save Shoredtich campaign and that almost 7,000 people had signed a petition in favour of preserving The Light and that the Council had received 460 written objections to the plan. Only three people wrote in to support the scheme.

Hackney’s Head of Planning tried to support his recommendations that the new tower should be approved by highlighting plans to provide ‘brown space’ on the roof of the skyscrapers for birds to nest in. But when asked if the scheme included adequate space in which children can play, he was forced to admit that facilities fell far short of Greater London Authority standards. It also emerged that the carbon footprint of the new tower barely achieved 50% of the standard set by the GLA.

It is likely that Hammerson will resubmit the Bishops Place, or an revised, scheme once the Council determines the new Conservation area boundaries later this year. The form of any revised scheme will depend upon whether The Light is brought within Conservation Area protection.

OPEN’s Save Shoreditch campaign is a coalition of the following local bodies: Jago Action Group, Boundary Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, North Brick Lane Residents’ Association, Jesus Hospital Estate Residents’ Association, Spitalfields Community Association, Spitalfields Society, Spitalfields Trust, Columbia Neighbourhood Action Group, Columbia Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, Friends of Arnold Circus, Spitalfields Small Business Association, Shoreditch House and individuals and businesses in the area.

When first unveiling its planned £700m Bishops Place scheme Hammeron's Chief Executive, John Richards, told analysts and shareholders of its "unparalleled record of securing and delivering developments to make big profits for shareholders"
Estates Gazette 16.6.07


Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Fifteen minutes to Save Shoreditch

Hackney Council will allow the community just 15 minutes on 24 July to persuade its Planning Committee not to give the green light to a new skyscraper development on the City of London's northern boundary in Shoreditch.

City developer Hammerson plc plans to build the 51-storey Bishop's Place tower that would dominate historic south Shoreditch. Redevelopment of the site, Hammerson says, requires the demolition of the historic electricity generating station known as The Light. However an alternative scheme put to the Council shows this claim to be untrue.

Alternative treatment of The Light in Willingale's development

Hackney Council owns most of the development site and it has been banking on the £millions it will make, from its sale option agreement with Hammerson, to pay for a new Town Hall Annexe which is now under construction (see para 5.2 of the linked Report on the Hearn St site).

The Planning Committee meeting now set for 24 July was unscheduled. Hackney has had to obtain a QC’s advice that it could specially convene the meeting before the Hammerson option agreement expires on 31 July and before it considers the long outstanding public consultation on including The Light within the new Shoreditch Conservation Area boundaries. Against the advice of its own independent experts Hackney has been recommending to the public that the Light and other buildings should be excluded. Some of the other buildings have already recently been demolished.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, a government appointed body which advises on the design of major schemes, has stated in its report that the 'Bishops Place' scheme represents overdevelopment, that it fails to relate to the surrounding area and that it should not be passed in its present form. This conflicts with the advice of the Council’s own Design and Conservation Officer who supports the scheme.

There have so far been 417 letters of objection sent to Hackney Council opposing the Bishop’s Place development but only 3 in favour. Rebecca Collings, Co-Chair of OPEN's Save Shoreditch campaign, said "The decision to approve this building appears to have been made months in advance of this planning meeting by Hackney's executive.This is a strategic site outside the City's existing boundaries. The City’s development partners want to expand north into Shoreditch and, in the process, to establish a precedent for tall buildings in the area – buildings that will overshadow and dominate residential and business communities and contribute very little to local needs."

The image above was produced by the major City developer, Hammerson, to illustrate its vision of a "City Fringe Masterplan". Hammerson has planned massive developments in south Hackney and Bethnal Green. They plan to extend a curtain of towers from Shoreditch High Street eastwards across the Bishopsgate Goodsyard to Brick Lane with buildings up to and exceeding 50 storeys.

Another neighbouring scheme, promoted by Hammerson and the City of London for the Nicholls and Clarke site, is now under appeal following refusal by Tower Hamlets Council because it too failed to relate to the adjacent conservation areas. Tower Hamlets Council have also objected to the Bishop's Place scheme saying that by reason of its bulk, scale and height would fail to either preserve or enhance the Elder street conservation area" contrary to local and national poicies.

However Tower Hamlets has recently issued planning permission for The Block, a tower at the eastern end of the developers arc of skyscraper developments, contrary to its own Design and Conservation Team advice.

This is the proposed 25 storey tower on Bethnal Green Road and Sclater Street planned by Telford Homes and Genesis Partners. OPEN is challanging the planning approval

The £500 million Bishops Place mixed development scheme totals 1.25 hectares and includes 87,000 sq ft of office accommodation, an 80-room hotel and 189 private residential units. The amenties for children will be woefuly inadequate and there will be separate blocks for just 39 intermediate ("affordable") flats and only 11 (5%) flats for social renting.

The Council report recommends that, in addition to the agreed purchase price, Hammerson be required to pay £14 million, as a condition of planning permission, to subsidise some “off-site” affordable housing. Not for the benefit of Shoreditch resdidents, but in Dalston. Last year, after
demolishing Dalston Theatre and locally listed Georgian houses, Hackney gave away its development site there for a peppercorn to help finance a £39 million concrete slab for a bus turnaround above the new Transport for London Dalston Junction station. The Dalston developer, Barratt, has been facing extreme financial difficulties recently. The lack of any affordable housing on TfL's Dalston site, despite the authorities 50% affordable housing targets, has been a huge embarrassment to the GLA, TfL and Hackney. By robbing Peter to pay Paul the authorities hope to mitigate the controversy over the Dalston development.

Representatives of many local community organisations, English Heritage, the Hackney Society and the Victorian Society all recommended that 'The Light' building at 233 Shoreditch High Street be included in the South Shoreditch Conservation Area. A petition of 6,757 signatures supports retention of the Light Building. But Hackney’s recommendations to its planning Committee includes the advice that The Light isn’t in the Conservation Area and so no special regard need be had to the effect which its demolition would have on the unique character and distinctiveness of the area.

The grant of planning permission could trigger a watershed test for London Mayor Boris Johnson. If Hackney Councillors give the go-ahead then Boris will then have only 14 days to give the thumbs down otherwise the tower can be built. Boris has recently indicated that he will not generally interfere with local planning decisions, but local residents and businesses will be calling on the Mayor to back their campaign and hold the local authority to account.

OPEN’s Rebecca Collings says the London Mayor would have a duty to intervene "If Hackney approve the scheme Boris will have a golden opportunity to show that he is running London for Londoners – not just for developers with money and influence. He must not allow this development to go ahead unchallenged. We will call upon Mayor Johnson to subject this development to rigorous and unbiased scrutiny. We also call on him to allow a genuine debate about the City Fringe area as a whole."