Architect says papers show detailing for demolition-threatened Clerkenwell development

Architect Amin Taha claims Islington council has accepted the existence of crucial documents containing façade details for his demolition-threatened 15 Clerkenwell Close, underpinning a delegated approval by planning officers.

But Taha says the authority, which has now issued two enforcement notices over the RIBA award-winning development, is dragging its feet over withdrawing its call for the six-storey structure to be razed. Taha said he believed the authority was now content for a planning inspector to decide the wrangle in an appeal later this year.

Islington argues that the building, which hosts the Amin Taha & Groupwork practice on its ground floor and flats on the others – one of them Taha’s home – has been built in breach of planning rules. It says the building’s “design and location fails to preserve or enhance the Clerkenwell Green Conservation Area” and harms its setting – which includes grade II* St James’ Church.

The council also says the building, which replaced a four-storey office block, had resulted in a loss of employment space that was against local planning policies.

15 Clerkenwell Close 4

Taha said the authority’s current concerns were a more vaguely-worded version of its earlier complaints that the building’s stonework – parts of which are unmachined and feature fossils – were “ugly”; that the building’s columns sat proud of a neighbouring 1970s block; and that the building’s office door had been relocated from an earlier version of the scheme.

He added that Islington’s other concerns had included a 1m discrepency in the height of a glazed solar chimney and layout changes to the scheme’s eight flats.

Taha told BD that Islington council had mysteriously found supposedly lost planning documents relating to the detailed design of the building after supporters had demanded to see them under the threat of the Freedom of Information Act.

Islington only uploaded the files, which cover the use of limestone sourced to match the church, brass windows and elevations for Clerkenwell Close, to its planning website in November last year – even though they relate to a delegated approval for the details signed off in 2015.

Stone samples for 15 Clerkenwell Close that appear in a planning document submitted to the London Borough of Islington

Stone sample for Amin Taha’s 15 Clerkenwell Close that appear in a planning document submitted to the London Borough of Islington

“The main point of the enforcement notice was that the stone-faced drawings approved didn’t show any sign of being fossil-finished and that no information, drawings, photos or emails existed suggesting the planning department had seen these or physical samples,” he said.

The photographs featuring the stone used to construct the building show stone samples, some roughly hewn blocks, and an example of a fossil in a block similar to some of those on the facing of 15 Clerkenwell Court.

Taha said he believed the council was dragging its heels over withdrawing the latest enforcement notice because it had been forced to rescind an earlier one when documents that supported the building’s switch from brick to stone emerged.

“I don’t expect enforcement officers to admit their error a second time,” he said.

“The response so far has been ‘we’ll leave it to the appeals inspector’, and we expect that case to be heard some time in May or June.

“Since we received the enforcement notice at the beginning of 2018 we’ve had to put together all the information the council have been missing in a form that would answer their concerns at the appeal.

Stone samples for Amin Taha's 15 Clerkenwell Close that appear in a planning document submitted to the London Borough of Islington

Stone samples for Amin Taha’s 15 Clerkenwell Close that appear in a planning document submitted to the London Borough of Islington

“As that is some way off, we placed the same information into a full plans application and submitted it November last year.”

In the case of the other concerns raised in Islington’s enforcement notice, Taha said the new building effectively increased the amount of employment and residential space on the previous building, but a mezzanine floor planned for the practice’s expansion had yet to be built out. He described Islington’s criticisim over the issue as “mean spirited”.

He added that minor amendments would be sufficient to deal with other concerns flagged by the council, but said the start of enforcement proceedings had made the authority unreceptive to such an approach.

A council spokesman insisted the authority had not lost any of the documents related to 15 Clerkenwell Close and had no plans to withdraw the enforcement notice in place on the building.

“After an investigation, the council has come to the view that the building at 15 Clerkenwell Close does not reflect the building that was granted planning permission and conservation area consent in 2013,” he said.

“In the council’s view, the existing building does not benefit from planning permission, and the council issued an enforcement notice on 26 February 2018, to take effect on 9 April 2018.

“The owners of the site appealed that enforcement notice on 6 April 2018, and the case is now due to be considered by the Planning Inspectorate.”

RIBA gave a 2018 London Award and a 2018 National Award to 15 Clerkenwell Close. The previous year Taha and Groupwork were shortlisted for the Stirling Prize for the Barret’s Grove flats development in Stoke Newington.