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Saturday02 August 2014

Islington gears up for battle over Archway Tower

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London council to challenge new planning rules

A London council has said it will mount a landmark challenge to stop plans to turn a former office block into new residential flats.

Islington council said it is the first in the country to try and overturn some of the permitted development rights introduced by the government at the end of May.

The Archway Tower

Source: Creative Commons

The Archway Tower

Under these, any office building can be turned into residential – although some local authorities such as the City of London are exempt from the rules.

Developer Essential Living has asked architects Grid to come up with plans to turn the Archway Tower above Archway tube station into 100 flats which it will then rent out.

But Islington’s executive member for housing and development, councillor James Murray, said: “There’s a real danger that small offices across the borough will be lost to private housing and tower blocks will have as many flats as possible crammed into them. Archway Tower is already being lined up to have a large number of small, sub-standard bedsits squashed into it, with no affordable housing.

“This is not right for Islington and so we have decided to challenge the government. We have started the legal process to try and overturn the government’s charges.”

The council has written to the government setting out its grounds for a legal challenge. “The next step is to formally file a claim for judicial review,” a spokesman said.

The tower has been empty since last year when previous tenant, the Office of the Public Guardian, which is part of the Justice ministry, moved to Birmingham.

Essential Living bought the leasehold to the 16-storey block from Valad Property Group last month. It declined to comment on Islington’s action but at the time of its deal with Valad, the firm’s executive director Scott Hammond said: “We are determined to offer renters the quality and service currently missing from the fragmented private rented sector which are largely owned by individual landlords.”

The 8,000sq m block was completed in 1963 and was used by the Department for Social Security in the 1980s.

NEW RULES AND THEIR IMPACT

Islington council applied for exemption from the government’s planning changes which include change of use for buildings from office to residential.

The government had told local authorities in England they could apply for exemption if they could demonstrate the new rights would result in harmful economic impacts.

Islington is one of 17 authorities – mainly in London – that has some form of exemption – but only for the area in the borough which nudges the City fringe. Archway Tower, at the opposite end, is not covered by the exemption.

The new rules cover homes, offices and shops and allow certain changes to be made without submitting planning permission. “These changes will bring empty and underused buildings back into productive use,” communities secretary Eric Pickles said.

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Readers' comments (8)

  • Christopher  Harvey AIA

    It is interesting, that in a time of political discourse regarding the lack of housing in the Capital, councils look to block robust contributions to the shortfall of rental flats within the city. The North American Model of companies owning an entire building, leasing (not selling) the apartments is a tried and true system, offering quality accommodation to all walks of life. I feel that there is a double standard here, Councils should not scream for more housing from the public sector without first scrutising strongly their own holdings and streamlining adaptive re-use as well as re-evaluation of their under-developed properties currently on Council books...

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  • @ Christopher Harvey- very true and well put. Cities were once predominently where people lived. They have been colonised by offices which drive out families and communities and replace them with dreary monoliths that are empty at nights and weekends. Zoning and excessive commercialisation need to be reversed to bring real life back to our cities.

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  • Since when did "robust contributions" exclude affordable housing? The lack of affordable housing is what is driving families and communities.

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  • If people want their housing to be affordable, they have the option of moving out of the country's most expensive city.

    They should do *something* with this building. I see no value in nitpicking over the details.

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  • @Christopher - to be fair to Islington, they are looking at their own underdeveloped sites, for example building new council flats on the site of disused garages on estates. And they've been looking to use their pension fund to invest to bring forward additional housing development as recommended by RIBA's Future Homes Commission.

    The context is that Islington - I think uniquely in London - have rejected the "affordable rent" funding stream for new social housing, because the local people who need it can't remotely afford anything like the 80% of market rents that it charges. So they're casting around for anything that can get them some money to develop housing at social rents.

    I think their main beef with this PD scheme is that it's outside the planning system so they don't have the mechanism to capture a chunk of the land value for social housing.

    Whether the current system of S106/CIL taxes on development is an appropriate way of funding social housing etc is outwith LBI's control; but the councillors will spend a lot of time on casework dealing with people thrown into destitution by the benefit changes and who desperately need genuinely affordable housing and it's good that they're trying to represent these residents' interests.

    Some of LBI's policies - like their £50k per unit charge on developments too small for S106 - do look like they cross over into something that will strangle the total supply of new housing, but getting affordable housing from schemes like this will more likely just change the tenure mix so that more of the units meet local people's need for housing they can afford.

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  • corbs glasses

    @Gil Gunderson -there is a need for workers in cities who do not do jobs that are highly paid, which are required for a city to function, are you suggesting these people should as well as working for little money have the furthest commute to work?

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  • Richard Truscott

    These proposed homes the developer wants to carve out of Archway Tower are not affordable; they will be at whatever rents the landlord can get away with; there is no shortage of expensive private rented flats in Islington.
    One of the points of the council's challenge is the conversion under PD is the developer potentially evades Islington's 50% (subject to viability) affordable policy.
    Also no variety of unit sizes, contrary to policies that other developments have to comply with, so won't meet the need for family sized accommodation and will further unbalance the community mix towards single people & short term residents with no commitment to the area.
    Equally they potentially evade all s106/CIL contributions for the increased burden on services & infrastructure the development will create.
    Furthermore as it would be PD they wouldn't have to comply with space & amenity standards; hence they will be tiny flats, much less than the Mayors Housing Design Guide space standards, with NO private outdoor amenity space, not even any openable windows, no guarantee of adequate daylighting etc.

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  • As an Archway resident (who lives a stones throw away from the Tower) I cannot believe that Islington Council are blocking the development of the Archway Tower - for political reasons it seems. Its empty!!!!

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