Tower Hamlets launches bid to overturn minister’s green light for 1,524 homes
An east London council has asked the High Court to review housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s decision to approve a huge development on the Isle of Dogs against the advice of a planning inspector.
PLP Architecture’s Westferry Printworks scheme, which will deliver 1,524 new homes in towers of 19 to 44 storeys, was given the green light by Jenrick in January against the advice of both Tower Hamlets council and planning inspector David Prentis who presided over an inquiry into the scheme.
Now Tower Hamlets has asked the High Court to review the approval for the site, owned by former Daily Express and Daily Star proprietor Richard Desmond, and is arguing that Jenrick was “influenced by a desire to help the developer – Westferry Developments – avoid a financial liability” in relation to new Community Infrastructure Levy charges.
The council said Jenrick’s decision to approve the Westferry Printworks proposals was made just one day before changes to Tower Hamlets’ CIL levels had been adopted and that the updated levels would have required the developer to pay “significantly more”.
Tower Hamlets said it had asked the High Court to order the the release of documents that it believes will show this was part of his consideration.
The borough’s elected mayor John Biggs said it was “disappointing” that the authority found itself having to seek leave to challenge a ministerial decision, but that there was no alternative.
“In granting this appeal, the secretary of state went against the recommendations reached by a planning inspector after a lengthy public inquiry,” he said.
“We have concerns about the way he reached his decision and I hope the courts will now look closely at the circumstances.
“Our residents must be able to have confidence that where planning decisions are taken out of the hands of local authorities, robust and fair processes will be followed.”
Westferry Developments already had consent for a 722-home version of the scheme, to be delivered in four towers of up to 30 storeys on the 5ha site after then-mayor Boris Johnson used his powers to approve the scheme in 2016.
But new plans for the site were submitted in 2018 adding an extra tower and seeking to deliver 1,730sq m of restaurants and bars and 1,048sq m of flexible commercial space as well as the increased housing numbers.
Westferry Developments subsequently launched an appeal against the council’s failure to determine the application within the statutory timescale. Tower Hamlets resolved to reject the updated scheme after the appeal process was launched
Building Design asked Tower Hamlets how it expected the coronavirus crisis to impact on the challenge. It said scheduling was in the hands of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, but noted that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had requested a time extension for the submission of its arguments and that further delays were “not unlikely” in the circumstances.
“We expect that proceedings will ultimately move forward in the normal way, just with extended timescales,” a spokesperson said.