Two major developments on the Isle of Dogs have been given approval by the mayor’s office, just ahead of the vote on who will replace outgoing mayor Boris Johnson.
At back to back hearings in City Hall, the Alpha Square tower scheme and the redevelopment of the Westferry Printworks were both approved, by deputy mayor Sir Edward Lister. The positive outcome came despite opposition from Tower Hamlets planners and councillors, and criticism of the impact of the projects. Both projects were of a scale that they drew the attention of the mayor’s office.
Together, the two schemes will create more than 1,350 new homes in the area, making up a shortfall in the borough. Under the London plan, Tower Hamlets should be delivering almost 2,500 new homes a year, to meet targets.
At West Ferry Printworks, a scheme to redevelop with a school, 722 homes, and some commercial space was proposed, replacing the newspaper printing facility. The design, by architects PLP, includes four towers up to 30 storeys, or 110 metres, high.
Planners at Tower Hamlets, whose decision has been usurped by the intervention of the mayor, nevertheless set out their recommendation to refuse permission for the development. Specifically, they pointed to the design principles and microclimate issues, an 11% affordable housing contribution and an inappropriate mix of unit sizes as reasons for refusal.
Amongst those critical of the proposals is the local sailing club, which maintains that the tall towers will reduce wind on the adjacent dock by more than a third. Local councillor Andrew Wood said: “I am disappointed that the developer has chosen for two years not to adequately deal with the impact on the sailing centre of the new development which I would otherwise support.
“We know from wind tunnel testing that a superior design could have been adopted that would have reduced the impact on young people learning to sail. Unless the sailing centre are offered an appropriate amount of support to mitigate the impact this decision will cause long term reputational damage to this development.”
Despite these issues, Lister declared the redevelopment of the long unused site would bring “enormous benefits”.
And the Alpha Square residential tower was also given a green light. Despite the density of the scheme, which features a slim 65 storey residential tower and a lower hotel block, the project’s benefits including a new school and health centre were considered a positive step.
Alpha Square scheme proposes two towers, of 34 and 65 storeys, containing over 700 apartments and a 231 room hotel, as well as a primary school, healthcare facility and some commercial floorspace. The site is immediately south of Canary Wharf, combining plots on Marsh Wall and Manilla Street.
Tower Hamlets gave six reasons for refusing the Alpha Square application. These were a compromised public realm; negative impact on the Maritime World Heritage Site; the “overbearing” nature of the building and insensitive relationship with surrounding properties; the potential to prejudice the development of neighbouring sites; failure to provide sufficient amenity space; and poor waste management.
Said Lister: “It’s all about the balance. It’s providing 25% of affordable housing on site, which is contrary to a number of schemes we’ve seen. Because of the benefits that are gained from this, I’m going to give planning permission.”
Councillor Wood told the local newspaper: “This development though confirms again that Marsh Wall will be the UK equivalent of Hong Kong and we need to start planning on that basis if this area is to work.”
LPA Perspective: There will undoubtedly be concerns about these decisions having been rushed through, ahead of the change of mayor. But let’s set that to one side.
Tower Hamlets, as a borough, has created itself a problem in the last few years, by not delivering enough housing, compared with the targets it was set in the London plan. It has a cumulative shortfall of more than 6,800 units, while there appears no let-up in demand for housing in London.
The other issue is that the Isle of Dogs – ever since Canary Wharf was built – has effectively become an acceptable place for tall buildings and modern architecture. Rather tall buildings here, next to a cluster of other ones, than plonked elsewhere in the borough.