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High Court challenge over London Mayor waving through Norton Folgate demolition

PUBLISHED: 20:04 28 January 2016 | UPDATED: 20:17 28 January 2016

Campaigners figiting Bishopsgate development at Shoreditch

Campaigners figiting Bishopsgate development at Shoreditch

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Campaigners battling to prevent London’s historic Liberty of Norton Folgate being redeveloped with corporate office towers have today been allowed a benchmark legal challenge against the Mayor of London.

Boris Johnson... executive mayor decisionBoris Johnson... executive mayor decision

High Court judge Mr Justice Collins has granted permission for a Judicial Review to the Spitalfields Trust against the Mayor waving through the plans in breach of legal procedures.

The Judicial Review challenges Boris Johnson for over-ruling Tower Hamlets Council, which has twice rejected the developers’ scheme in partnership with the City of London Corporation which has been buying up properties in the Georgian conservation area over the past two years.

The Mayor used executive powers at a public hearing on January 18 to “wave through” British Land’s scheme, despite overwhelming public opposition led by TV historian Dan Cruickshank who organized a mass protest last summer with hundreds of people linking hands around the huge site.

Area of Norton Folgate British Land wants to bulldozeArea of Norton Folgate British Land wants to bulldoze

The challenge by Spitalfields Trust comes after they obtained an email from City Hall to the developers which it said breached the statutory time required to go through all the planning application evidence neutrally.

GLA officials at City Hall made a decision before properly considering whether it should be ‘called in’ over the heads of Tower Hamlets council which had already rejected it twice, the trust argues.

The High Court has listed the case for a hearing before May 5—the last week Boris remains Mayor before stepping down.

Where high-rise office blocks are planned at Norton FolgateWhere high-rise office blocks are planned at Norton Folgate

“Boris Johnson has become accustomed to using his powers as Mayor to intervene to decide prominent planning disputes,” the Trust said tonight in a statement.

“The GLA lists 13 interventions across London by the Mayor—and every one has been in favour of developers and against local authorities.

“Boris chose in September to focus on two prominent sites—Norton Folgate and the Bishopsgate Goodsyard—when he called them in, both on the same day, with time running out before approaching elections for Mayor.”

'Hands on' protest as campaigners link up to encircle Norton Folgate in July 2015'Hands on' protest as campaigners link up to encircle Norton Folgate in July 2015

The Trust has obtained “evidence of irregularities” in the GLA’s handling of the case through a Freedom of Information request, so it has launched its Judicial Review to challenge Boris’s intervention.

“The Mayor’s handling of these cases is essentially autocratic,” it adds. “A decision is taken by one man alone which cannot be challenged.

“It is important that correct procedures are followed as a safeguard of the public interest.”

Campaign to preserve Georgian character of Norton FolgateCampaign to preserve Georgian character of Norton Folgate

But such procedures did not happen over the Liberty of Norton Folgate scheme, it points out.

Tower Hamlets council’s refusal was sent the GLA on September 9 and noted as received the next day, together with 550 letters of objection and all the papers that had taken eight months to resolve.

“GLA officers were required to read all these documents, to address the application neutrally without prejudgment,” the Trust insists.

Ancient Liberty of Norton FolgateAncient Liberty of Norton Folgate

“The Mayor had 14 days to reach his decision. But instead, they sent an email to British Land’s consultants at 10.48am on September 10—before they could conceivably have read all the relevant papers—assuring them the Mayor intended to call in the application.”

Spitalfields Trust contends that this was “unlawful” and “an incorrect predetermination to intervene”.

The Trust has three other grounds for deeming it unlawful—that the Mayor failed to regard the challenge that statutory criteria for his intervention were not met, that he erred in law by overstating the impact on the London Plan and that he erred in law in incorrectly assessing the impact on more than one London borough.

GLA email to British Land

“Yes the report will advise that the application has a significant impact on the implementation of the London Plan and a significant effect on more than one borough and there are therefore sound planning reasons for the Mayor to intervene in this case. The Mayor will make a final decision (calling in the application) following the meeting on (September) 23.”

The Mayor went ahead knowing “the very real risk that the planning hearing (January 18 at City Hall) may be reduced to a charade and his decision overruled, with the consequent waste of time, public money and the GLA’s reputation”.

January 18, 2016: Battle lost for Norton Folgate as Boris waves through redevelopment

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