A public hearing into the redevelopment of the Bishopsgate goods yard has been postponed, at the request of the developers.
With just a week before the planned 18 April representation hearing, Bishopsgate Goodsyard Regeneration asked for the delay. A report prepared for the mayor, and to be used at the hearing, recommended refusing the scheme as it stands, citing a range of concerns.
The decision is a major fillip for protestors, who have been campaigning for a refusal of the proposed design, arguing it has too many tall buildings. The More Light More Power campaign said it “declares a victory for the community in preventing permission being granted for this very damaging scheme”. It has called for the applicants to “go back to the drawing board” and prepare a substantially different scheme, answering its demands for substantially lower towers.
The scale of the project, which promises a residential-led scheme with more than 1,300 apartments, led the mayor to take over a decision on the scheme from local authorities Hackney and Tower Hamlets, whose boundary splits the site. This was despite both authorities insisting they were able to determine the scheme themselves, within appropriate timescales.
Both authorities had declared themselves opposed to the plans, as currently drawn, on a number of key points. While the height was considered too damaging in its impact on nearby loss of light, there were concerns about the level of affordable housing proposed, the lack of suitable business space for the area’s creative community, and poor architecture.
The two authorities also had consultants review the viability arguments advanced by the developer. Their consultant BNP Paribas declared considerable discrepancies, compared with the developer’s submissions, identifying distortion and a lack of transparency over their submission.
The deferral request from planning consultants DP9, on behalf of the developers, notes concerns raised “in respect of the amenity aspects to the surrounding area, and detailed design matters relating to Phoenix Street and heritage matters”. However, the problems are put as not being significant, with the consultants further adding: “We consider that the issues can be satisfactorily resolved through further discussion with your officers.”
In response, mayor Boris Johnson accepted the postponement, noting the developer’s “willingness to work with GLA officers to satisfactorily address the issues raised”.
The scheme is at outline stage, with the current application proposing up to 1,356 homes, 65,859 sq m of business space, 17,499 sq m of shops and restaurants, and 22,642 sq m of new public open space, as well as ancillary facilities. A total of 12 buildings are proposed on the site, with the tallest three residential towers being 47, 39 and 31 storeys, up to 177.6 metres high. The scheme would include the restoration and repair of the grade II listed Braithwaite viaduct.
Developers Hammerson and Ballymore have used a stable of designers including Farrells, PLP Architecture, FaulknerBrowns, Chris Dyson Architects and Peter Connell Associates.
The report to the mayor, which was due to be aired at the hearing, presents a number of reasons why the scheme is perceived as delivering “unacceptable and avoidable significant negative impacts”.
Sunlight and daylight issues are considered “serious” with the report stating “the density, height, massing and layout of the scheme are not appropriate for this site”.
Part of the design is reckoned to be a potential magnet for anti-social behaviour, while the scheme would cause substantial harm to local listed buildings, and minor harm to a range of heritage buildings and conservation areas, including the Tower of London.
The report offers the developers the following guidance: “By seeking to optimise, rather than maximise development, it is considered that a revised scheme would have to have significantly less height and massing along the north-western edge of the site in particular.”
With just 25% affordable housing offered on site, the report also calculates the need for a further tariff of £21.825 million to fund off-site provision of affordable homes.
The More Light More Power protestors suggest that a redesign ought to improve the quantity of affordable homes, and possibly look for a smaller residential element to the development.
LPA Perspective: This site has been sitting vacant since the 1960s, a fact that shames its owners for their failure to bring a redevelopment scheme forward.
So it is ironic that now, as a scheme gets drawn up, it needs to be quite so dense, with towers quite so tall. The site’s value ought to have been all but written off over the years it has stood vacant. And current promoters Hammerson and Ballymore agreed a deal on the site in 2002, with the former selling the latter a 50% stake in both the Bishopsgate site and one in London W2, for £5.625m. But at least that means the developers ought to have the financial leeway to come up with a revised proposal that is less dense, but still works financially.
The problem with arguing against tall towers on this site is that it already sits in an area where some reasonably tall towers have been consented. Immediately to the west, Hackney approved the 40 storey Stage scheme in 2013, and last year gave approval for a mixed use scheme with blocks up to 30 storeys. So the precedent for a cluster of towers in the area is already on the way to being set.