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