Mayors join forces to challenge City Hall and put brakes on Bishopsgate skyscrapers
PUBLISHED: 10:43 18 November 2015 | UPDATED: 16:39 18 November 2015
Two London boroughs have joined forces this week to throw the gauntlet down to Boris Johnson in an 11th hour challenge to stop a massive development on the City Fringe casting a long shadow across Shoreditch.
The elected mayors of both Tower Hamlets and its neighbouring Hackney have declared backing for a people’s ‘More Light, More Power’ campaign to prevent the City spreading into East London with more luxury apartments in towers reaching 47 storeys that they say ordinary families can’t afford to live in.
John Biggs and Jules Pipe addressed a public meeting at the historic Shoreditch Church on the border of the two London boroughs in a challenge to City Hall which they hint could end up in the High Court.
Boris has gone above their heads by taking over the planning application due to be discussed by each local authority’s planning committee next month, under pressure from developers, claiming they had run out of time.
“It’s important that we make a serious challenge to this scheme,” Tower Hamlets’ mayor John Biggs told the meeting.
“The Mayor of London is at risk of making a lazy decision because he’s obsessed with numbers and hasn’t really thought through the implications.”
But the local mayors are ready for a fight, maintaining that the developers had lobbed in an amended and complex application as late as July.
Hackney’s Jules Pipe said: “They rejected all our suggestions on housing and made matters worse by a virtual reapplication with little time to study it, which gave the Mayor of London the excuse to step in.
“We had argued with the developers for months and months, when they decided to take a short cut to City Hall to get it ‘nodded through’.
“But a quick and dirty decision would be open to a Judicial Review.”
A legal challenge hinges on the level of ‘affordable’ homes planned among the luxury apartments in the Bishopsgate scheme.
The developers at first offered nothing, then relented with “up to 10 per cent” low-cost homes after a viability study—but the authorities’ own viability study suggests 49pc.
The figures will be thrashed out at December’s Town Hall planning meetings which Boris will have to take into account if he is to avoid being challenged in the courts.
Mayor Pipe added: “The developers’ 10pc ‘goodwill’ gesture is against our 49pc assessment—while even Boris’s overall London ‘affordable’ threshold is 25pc.
“If he goes too low in his decision, that would be solid, factual grounds to legally challenge the scheme.”
The City Hall take-over led to a ‘black umbrella’ protest march through Brick Lane market on Sunday with the ‘More Light, More Power’ campaign claiming Boris was pushing the scheme through before he leaves Office next May.
Mayor Pipe urged the public to put pen to paper and flood City Hall with a mass of individual objections.
“It’s going to be by people writing in, whether you’re a resident or small business,” he told the packed meeting.
“Write in to City Hall and object on the basis of planning grounds—like height, shadowing, the need for businesses in the area, the negligible amount of affordable housing, that you’ve heard there are liability assessments about the ‘zero or negligible’ amount of affordable housing.
“Get all that down in a letter—because individual, separately-written objections carry far more weight to people who make planning decisions than 6,000 signatures underneath one letter.”
Members of the public speaking out at Monday’s meeting included Jeremy Freedman, who urged protection for the historic Boundary Estate which would be cast in shadow by the skyscrapers.
He said: “The world’s first social housing experiment is still in great condition and in use 115 years later by its active and real community.
“Bishopsgate is owned by the taxpayer through Network Rail, so it’s an opportunity to develop it into another shining example of providing community housing as high-quality assets.”
The developers, Ballymore and Hammerson’s, had been invited to the open meeting—but decided not to turn up, believing it was “just an anti-development rally”, their spokesman said.
They issue a statement instead, claiming there had been a campaign of misinformation about the regeneration of the goods terminal, which has remained derelict for 50 years since it was destroyed in a massive blaze in 1964.
The statement said they had been “working hard alongside the local community and local planning authorities since 2013”.
But the claim was disputed by Hackney’s mayor who said the developers had rejected all suggestions and made matters worse by their late re-application.
The document for such a huge scheme needs time and can’t be rushed, the local mayors point out. Even Boris will have to consider the decisions on housing ratio being made by the planning committees of both Tower Hamlets and Hackney councils next month—or face threat of a judicial review.
Protest co-ordinator David Donoghue, founder of the Shoreditch ‘More Light, More Power’ umbrella coalition of 30 campaign groups, said the planning application document contained “more words than the entire works of Shakespeare”.
It was ironic that The Bard lived in Shoreditch—just a minute’s walk from the Bishopsgate site—while creating many of his classic dramas on stage at The Curtain Theatre four centuries ago.
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