Council tower block on Limehouse Triangle is rejected—after Tower Hamlets breaches own planning rules
PUBLISHED: 16:06 12 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:04 13 January 2017
The way Tower Hamlets council has breached its own planning rules to get rid of a biodiversity green space and build another tower block in London's East End has been slammed as "underhanded" at its own planning committee.
Council members last night threw out an application to build a nine-storey tower next to the Regent’s Canal conservation area on a wildlife “feeding station” known as the Limehouse Triangle—after discovering the land had already been cleared.
Mature trees and hedgerows were all cut down last May—months before the application on the land that is owned by the council itself.
“If a private developer had done this in advance of a planning application, we’d have strung them up by their ‘nether regions’,” stormed Cllr Andrew Wood.
“This area has been mismanaged by Tower Hamlets Homes for years, creating a situation where you have waste land to build on.
“It should be restored to a publicly-accessible open space with trees and flowers and all the rest of it.”
Angry families on the adjoining Locksley Estate next to the Triangle sent letters and two petitions protesting when they found the wildlife haven had been levelled and the biodiversity hedgerow the community planted 16 years before was uprooted—first revealed in the East London Advertiser in 2016.
Even the Canal & River Trust had objected to the proposed tower block overshadowing the historic early-19th century waterway.
The families on the estate have now begun a campaign to get the Limehouse Triangle—which had been given grants in 2000 by Tower Hamlets council itself for hedgerows and trees which had matured into a wildlife sanctuary—declared a “community asset”.
Campaigner Alicia Joseph led a delegation to the Town Hall last night. She told councillors: “This tower block would be just yards away from properties and would be unbearable.
“Living environment affects your health—many families will have their bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens directly facing the new block 15 yards away, throwing them into darkness with the loss of natural daylight.
“We want to champion the space as a natural site in this overcrowded urban area.
“The original Tower Hamlets plan was to allow a hedge to grow and be preserved for our community.
“We want the chance to use this triangle as an example of involving the community to nurture a sanctuary and wildlife haven that the council should be using as a blueprint of what a tiny space can be used for within built up residential areas.”
She accused the council of acting “in an underhanded manner”. The trees and hedgerows were uprooted months before the planning application was lodged with its own planning committee.
Petition organiser Christine Phillips told the Advertiser a month ago: “This triangle was made part of a ‘green corridor’ in 2000 for wildlife between Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and the Limehouse Basin—a feeding station for butterflies, bees and birds which is badly needed with so many tower blocks being built.”
Even the council’s planning chairman Andrew Cregan now appeared to have his feathers ruffled by what campaigners described as “underhand methods”.
He told the planning committee: “I am loathed to see any green land built on and conscious of all those factors—in discovering that it’s council-owned land, in spite of what has been said a cynical and underhand way of going about preparing the land for a (planning) application.
“It’s incredibly sad to see an area of biodiversity of trees and hedges has been cleared.”
There was scorn by council officers claiming that the land could not be returned to its natural state after the chairman described “the damage being done”.
Campaigners interrupted the planning manager responsible for the application while he was giving evidence to support the tower block scheme, arguing that any land “could return to its natural state” by planting trees and allowing hedges to re-grow—which is what the families now intend.
Cllr Wood, Tory Opposition member from Canary Wharf, said afterwards: “The land should not have been cleared in preparation for this application. The council would have been up in arms if a private developer had done this.
“There were mature trees on the Limehouse Triangle, so I am surprised that they were knocked down.
“The council hasn’t looked after that piece of land properly for many years and decided to clear it in preparation for building. It was meant to be a public garden.”
Town Hall funds were handed out in 2000 by the council for community planting of native-species hedges to increase the East End’s chronic lack of biodiversity, which seemed to have been overlooked by its own housing department.