Heritage campaigners have mounted a legal challenge to Boris Johnson’s decision to call in controversial plans to overhaul British Land’s Norton Folgate area in east London.
The mayor intervened in September, two months after Tower Hamlets’ councillors threw out the 32,550 sq m Blossom Street plans by developer British Land, against an officer recommendation to approve the scheme, as reported by Construction News’ sister title Architects’ Journal.
But now campaign group Spitalfields Trust, which has been fighting a high-profile battle against the City fringe development, is challenging the mayor’s decision to call in the scheme, citing “procedural irregularities” in court documents applying for a judicial review of the procedure.
The trust believes that GLA officers could not have properly considered documents relating to the case, having taken just 24 hours to decide to call in the application.
A statement from the trust said: “The decision of Tower Hamlets Council to refuse the application was referred to the GLA in a letter sent by the council on 9 September 2015, and noted by the GLA as received on 10 September, together with a substantial bundle of documents, including all the papers relating to the determination of a case that had taken eight months to resolve, and 550 letters of objection.
“The GLA officers were required to read all these documents, to address the application neutrally and objectively, and without prejudgment, and the mayor had 14 days to reach a decision.
“GLA officers could not conceivably have read the relevant papers”
“Instead, they sent an email to British Land’s consultants at 10.48am on 10 September – before they could conceivably have read the relevant papers – assuring them that the mayor intended to call in the application.”
In its court papers, the trust also set out three other grounds for deeming the call-in decision unlawful: that the mayor failed to have regard for the trust’s challenge that the statutory criteria for his intervention were not met; that the mayor erred in law by overstating the impact of the scheme on the implementation of the London Plan, particularly with regard to Crossrail; and that the mayor erred in law in incorrectly assessing the impact on more than one London borough.
In response, a spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “The mayor believes that he has followed the proper process and is resisting the proceedings lodged by the Spitalfields Trust.”
It is was confirmed that Mr Johnson would proceed with a planned meeting next Monday (18 January) to consider the scheme, before making his eventual decision.
The statement continued: “The mayor has called in only 13 of 2,300 planning applications received since 2008, which reflects the fact he only intervenes when absolutely necessary and when it is of strategic importance to London.”
“The trust has no grounds on which to make an application for judicial review”
A statement on behalf of British Land said: “We believe the trust has no grounds on which to make an application for judicial review of the mayor’s decision but, pending a definitive court ruling on the judicial review – and the court still has to determine whether there is an arguable case – we would expect the mayor to proceed with the representation hearing scheduled for 18 January at City Hall, the purpose of which is to determine whether to grant planning permission.”
British Land Blossom Street
In November the developer agreed to amend its original proposals in a bid to resolve the planning dispute. The revised scheme retains two 19th century warehouse blocks at the heart of the project (12 and 13 Blossom Street) previously earmarked for a major overhaul.
However, objectors remained unconvinced by the revisions, saying the redesign represented only a ‘relatively minor amendment’ (see AJ 25.11.15).
The project has been designed by AHMM, Duggan Morris, DSDHA and Stanton Williams.