Planning inspector dismisses challenge to 16-storey Bethnal Green development on heritage grounds
A planning inspector has upheld a council’s decision to refuse an HTA-designed mixed-use scheme in east London, citing the 16-storey development’s impact on local heritage.
Tower Hamlets rejected the 189-unit proposals, drawn up for Telford Homes, in May last year. Members of the authority’s strategic development committee said the development, which would have replaced a 1950s London Electricity Board office block on Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green, failed to meet affordable housing requirements and was poorly designed.
Tower Hamlets originally included Telford Homes’ proposed tenure mix for the scheme’s 65 affordable homes in its reasons for rejection. However it did not seek to defend the point at appeal. The scheme also sought to deliver 1,676sq m of flexible commercial space on the 0.38ha site.
Dismissing the appeal after six days of hearings, planning inspector Jennifer Vyse said she had found the HTA scheme would do harm to all of the area’s identified heritage assets apart from the grade II-listed Bethnal Green Library. She said that the new development, the lowest elements of which are six storeys, would intrude in views in a way that the current buildings did not.
She said the harm caused to John Soane’s grade I-listed St John’s Church, Bethnal Green Gardens, and a selection of grade II-listed buildings to the north of the development site would be outweighed by the scheme’s public benefits.
But Vyse said the harm caused to the Bethnal Green Gardens Conservation Area was greater. She noted that although the harm would only be defined as “less than substantial” under the terms of the National Planning Policy Framework, this did not make for a less-than-substantial planning objection.
“This is a small conservation area,” she said. “The sheer scale of the appeal scheme would be at complete odds with the open spaces and more domestic scale development, imposing itself on the southern part of the conservation area, causing material harm to its heritage significance and to one’s appreciation of the heritage significance of the area as a whole.”
Vyse added that when a proposal affected a number of heritage assets, a finding of “less than substantial harm” to each individual building could be given more cumulative weight in the overall planning balance.
“Having weighed carefully all the benefits they do not, in my view, outweigh the harm that I have identified,” she said.
“I have taken all other matters into consideration, including the fact that the appeal site has effectively been vacant for a number of years and, were the appeal to be unsuccessful, is likely to remain vacant for some time to come, and also that any smaller scheme might be less viable and would thus deliver less affordable housing.”
Telford Homes and HTA had not responded to Building Design’s request for comment at the time of publication.
The developer now has a window to challenge the decision at the High Court.