The Secretary Of State & London

The Secretary of State wrote last year to the Mayor of London: “I am not convinced your assessment of need reflects the full extent of housing need in London to tackle affordability problems. I have listened carefully to yours, and others, representations, and I am clear that the public interest lies with ensuring you deliver the homes London needs, including in the short term, as quickly as possible.”

Do we see this same message being delivered in his recent interventions?

None of this is news to regular readers of Planning magazine but I give you:

Purley Baptist Church site, Croydon

A scheme by Thornsett Group and Purley Baptist Church for the “demolition of existing buildings on two sites; erection of a 3 to 17 storey development on the ‘Island Site’ (Purley Baptist Church, 1 Russell Hill Road, 1-4 Russell Hill Parade, 2-12 Brighton Road, Purley Hall), comprising 114 residential units, community and church space and a retail unit; and a 3 to 8 storey development on the ‘South Site’ (1-9 Banstead Road) comprising 106 residential units, and associated landscaping and works.”

Supported by the London Borough of Croydon and by the Mayor. But opposed by, amongst others, Conservative MP Chris Philp (Croydon South). The application was called in on 12 April 2017 and, despite inspector David Nicholson recommending approval, refused by the Secretary of State in his decision letter dated 3 December 2018, essentially on design and heritage grounds:

26. Given his serious concerns about the design of the scheme as set out above at paragraphs 13 to 15, for the reasons given above the Secretary of State does not consider that the application is in accordance with the development plan overall. He has gone on to consider whether there are material considerations which indicate that the proposal should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan.

27. In favour, the scheme will provide 220 new homes which he considers should be given significant weight. The Secretary of State also affords significant weight to the benefits to Purley District Centre arising as a result of the regeneration of the site. The provision of a new church and greatly enhanced community facilities are also benefits, to which the Secretary of State gives moderate weight. He considers the level of affordable housing and the potential effects on air quality to be neutral in the planning balance.

28. Against the scheme, however, the Secretary of State gives substantial weight to the poor design of the South Side proposals, and to the height and proportions of the tower set out in paragraphs 13 to 15 above, which he considers not to be in accordance with relevant policies in the development plan.

29. The Secretary of State has also considered whether the identified ‘less than substantial’ harm to the significance of Purley Library and surrounding Conservation Areas is outweighed by the public benefits of the proposal. In accordance with the s.66 LBCA duty, he attributes considerable weight to the harm the significance of Purley Library. However, he considers that the benefits of the scheme, as set out in Paragraph 22 of this letter, are insufficient to outbalance the identified ‘less than substantial’ harm to the significance of Purley Library and surrounding conservation areas. He considers that the balancing exercise under paragraph 196 of the Framework is therefore not favourable to the proposal.”

It always feels slightly odd when the Secretary of State, on a desk-based examination of a set of papers, and following a public inquiry, considers it appropriate to overrule the judgment of local planning authority, Mayor and inspector in relation to these sorts of issues

I understand that the decision has been challenged in the High Court by the applicants.

Sir William Sutton Estate, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

By contrast, a scheme opposed both by RBKC (which refused permission) and by the Mayor for “demolition of the existing [Sir William Sutton] estate (Blocks A-K, N and O) and ancillary office; delivery of 343 new residential homes comprising of 334 apartments and 9 mews within buildings of 4-6 storeys; provision of Class D1 community floorspace with associated café; new Class A1-A5 and B1 floorspace; creation of new adopted public highway between Cale Street and Marlborough Street; new vehicular access from Ixworth Place; creation of new basement for car parking, cycle parking and storage; new energy centre fuelled by CHP, and works to adjacent pavement“.

The developer, Clarion Housing Group (formerly Affinity Sutton Homes Limited), appealed. Curiously, the appeal was only recovered by the Secretary of State for his own determination on 1 May 2018, just over a week before the start of the inquiry. By his decision letter dated 18 December 2018 the Secretary of State accepted his inspector’s recommendation and dismissed the appeal.

The main issue was in relation to the level of affordable housing proposed. After the appeal was submitted, the appellant had attempted to improve the position with changes to the scheme:

The key changes relate to the quantum of social rented housing and the number of mews houses. The Revised Scheme proposes 2,825 m2 more social rented floorspace, an increase from 237 to 270 social rented homes. The 9 private mews houses would be removed and replaced with social rented flats. Elements of the building design would be changed. The Revised Scheme results in an increase in the overall number of homes from 343 to 366.

The non-residential floorspace in the Appeal Scheme and the Revised Scheme would be the same in respect of Classes A1-A3 and B1 workspace, but there would be a decrease in the community floorspace in the Revised Scheme.”

However, applying ‘Wheatcroft‘ principles (“the main, but not the only, criterion on which… judgment should be exercised is whether the development is so changed that to grant it would be to deprive those who should have been consulted on the changed development of the opportunity of such consultation”) the Secretary of State, agreeing with the recommendation of his inspector, refused to consider the revised scheme due to concerns as to the adequacy of the consultation that had been carried out. (One legitimate criticism was of “skewed” questioning of the public in a Feedback Form which asked “Do you support the proposals to amend the scheme to provide 33 additional homes for social rent?“, although I have seen similarly skewed questioning in MHCLG consultation documents…).

The Secretary of State did not accept the appellant’s position as to whether there was existing affordable housing on the site:

vacation of a property by a Registered Provider as a preliminary step towards estate renewal cannot reasonably be a basis for disregarding that floorspace for the purposes of affordable housing policy. He further agrees, for the reasons given at IR206-218, that the AS fails to comply with the ‘no net loss’ element of development plan policy.”

He considered that for the same reason the benchmark land value for the purposes of viability appraisal should be “based on the current situation, that is based on social housing development, as the Council contends.”

He concluded that the appeal scheme failed “to satisfy the policy aims of no net loss of social housing and maximum reasonable provision, largely for reasons related to the way in which the exiting [sic] vacant units of social housing are treated.”

Newcombe House, Notting Hill

Still in RBKC and back to the saga of Newcombe House. As summarised in my 18 June 2017 blog post, an appeal in relation to the proposed development of the site had been rejected by inspector David Nicholson (as of the Purley Baptist Church site case above). The refusal had partly been on similar grounds to the dismissal of the Sir William Sutton Estate appeal.

A new scheme was brought forward by the developer, Notting Hill KCS Limited, for “demolition of existing buildings and redevelopment to provide office, 46 residential units, retail uses, and a flexible surgery/office use, across six buildings (ranging from ground plus two storeys to ground plus 17 storeys), with two-storey basement together with landscaping to provide a new public square, ancillary parking and associated works.”

RBKC resolved to refuse the new application on 31 January 2018, on townscape, heritage and affordable housing grounds. On 26 March 2018 the Mayor of London intervened and took over the application. The applicant varied the scheme to increase the humber of homes and amount of affordable housing and the Mayor resolved to approve it on 18 September 2018 subject to completion of a section 106 agreement.

However, following representations by RBKC, the local residents group and Emma Dent Coad MP, the Secretary of State has issued a holding direction so that he can consider whether to call in the application for his own determination.

Kensington Forum Hotel

Another RBKC saga. An application by Queensgate Bow Propco Limited for the redevelopment of the Kensington Forum Hotel for “comprehensive redevelopment and erection of a part 30, part 22 and part 7 storey building comprising hotel bedrooms and serviced apartments (Class C1) with ancillary bar, restaurants, conferencing and dining areas, leisure facilities and back of house areas; residential accommodation (Class C3); with associated basement, energy centre, plant, car parking, cycle parking, refuse stores, servicing areas; associated highway works and creation of new publicly accessible open space with associated hard and soft landscaping“. The scheme included 46 homes.

On 27 September 2018 RBKC resolved to refuse planning permission – as with Newcombe House on townscape, heritage and affordable housing grounds. As with Newcombe House, the Mayor of London intervened and took over the application, on 5 November 2018.

This time however RBKC has issued proceedings for judicial review, seeking to quash the Mayor’s decision to take over the application. From the 7 December 2018 pre-action letter it appears that the grounds are (1) alleged errors of fact as to the number of homes which RBKC has recently delivered and (2) a failure to take into account RBKC’s programme for building new homes (including homes for social rent).

In the meantime it is reported that the Secretary of State has, again as with Newcombe House, issued a holding direction so that he can consider whether to call in the application for his own determination.

Getting messy isn’t it?

Simon Ricketts, 26 January 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Purley scheme, image from inspector’s report

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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