Government U-turn throws spanner in the works for Isle of Dogs’ 1,500-homes Westferry scheme
PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 19:04 22 May 2020
The controversial Westferry printworks luxury housing scheme for 1,500 homes on the Isle of Dogs has finally been stopped.
The government has accepted it “acted unlawfully” in a legal battle with Tower Hamlets Council over plans for five skyscraper towers on the former Daily Express printworks on the Millwall waterfront.
It spells victory for campaigners trying to control the rapid expansion of new developments which have put a strain on public services such as transport and mains supplies of electricity, gas and water.
Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has made a U-turn after his intervention on January 14 had overturned the council’s move to block the scheme as well as a planning inspector recommending against granting permission.
The High Court action claimed the timing of the minister’s decision 24 hours before planning levies costing £30-£50million “showed bias” favouring the developer.
Lawyers for the mayor and GLA say the U-turn means the whole scheme now has to be “redetermined” before any building work goes ahead.
Lawyer Melissa Murphy said in a statement passed to the East London Advertiser: “The council and GLA challenged the minister’s decision for planning permission against the recommendation of a public inquiry when the planning inspector had found harm to the setting of Tower Bridge and that the scheme failed to provide reasonable affordable housing.
“The Secretary of State accepted that the timing of his letter (allowing the scheme) avoiding developers’ substantial financial liability would lead the fair minded and informed observer to conclude a real possibility that he was biased.
“He accepted that the decision was unlawful by reason of apparent bias and should be quashed.”
The council had asked the High Court to order the government to “disclose documents” that it argued would show “a desire to help the developer save money” by avoiding the new levy.
The levy pays for services with cash up front before any scheme is agreed and would conform to the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan which was formally adopted earlier this month.
Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs said: “We may never know what emails and memos the Secretary of State received before making his decision and what influence they had, but his reluctance to disclose them speaks volumes.
“He went against the residents whose lives would be directly affected by this scheme in siding with the developer.”
The Isle of Dogs Planning Forum finally got its long-awaited Neighbourhood Plan adopted to put a check on unbridled developments. It seemed to have been too late to stop the Westferry scheme — but now all the cards are up in the air with the minister’s sudden U-turn.
The forum’s secretary Cllr Andrew Wood has now called for an inquiry into the minister’s “bias”.
He told the Advertiser: “The reasons for his decision (to push the scheme) and his correspondence with the developer should be in the public domain and investigated by the appropriate authorities, given the £30m-£50m at stake.”
The authority has cross-party backing from Labour and Tory Opposition and is now pressing for a scheme that “meets the needs of the community” with adequate public services that include a new Westferry secondary school to meet the Isle of Dogs population explosion set to rise by 10,000 in the next 10 years.
Labour’s Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake said: “We were shocked that the secretary of state went against the government’s own planning inspector’s recommendation. The timing meant the developer would have been able to pay much lower costs, so we had no choice but challenge it through the courts.”
The town hall feels strongly that planning decisions “should be taken locally” rather than be over-ridden by Whitehall. Now at least all new schemes on the Isle of Dogs have to conform to the new Neighbourhood Plan with rules about cash up front for public services before they get the green light.
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