Islington’s planning committee has overturned a recommendation from officers to approve the redevelopment of a multistorey car park in Farringdon Road, on the edge of the City of London.
The decision means a proposed redevelopment with offices and a hotel will not now go ahead.
The redevelopment was designed by architects Sheppard Robson for developer Endurance Land. And, following modifications to satisfy the concerns of planning officers, which saw blocks reduced in height and top floors cut back, the scheme was recommended for approval.
The proposals were for a part five, part six storey block that would contain a 180 room Hub hotel, featuring the new compact city hotel brand from Whitbread, plus 3,647 sq m of offices and ground floor retail units. The scheme was destined to replace a brick fronted multistorey car park, built in the early 1990s and universally described as ugly.
Overturning officer advice, planning committee members argued the borough’s policy required the site to have provided some housing. Additionally, they expressed concerns about design, lack of cycle parking and servicing arrangements.
Committee vice-chairman Martin Klute said the plan did not comply with the Finsbury Local Plan, telling the local newspaper: “There was no argument presented that justified us going away from policy. It’s a bit of a mystery as to why officers recommended the scheme so enthusiastically. The whole thing was pretty substandard.”
The calls for housing on the site were made despite planning officers having clearly examined the options for alternative development, including a housing element, or more office space. They had hired external consultants to review six development scenarios. The consultants concluded that several of the options were unviable, and the one proposed did offer the best return for the site. Officers noted in their report to committee that “an element of housing to the scheme would render it unviable. For this reason the proposals are considered to maximise the amount of office accommodation that the site can afford to deliver and therefore accords with the development plan policies”.
“We are naturally disappointed that the committee ignored the planning officer’s advice to grant permission,” said a spokesman for Endurance Land. “It makes little sense to keep an ugly car park when the proposal would bring over 400 new jobs, new offices and shops, a new hotel and bring new life to this drab part of Farringdon Road. We firmly believe that a bold, contemporary piece of design that reflects the energy of Farringdon and Clerkenwell is the right approach to the site.”
The decision of the planning committee has been criticised by former CABE commissioner Paul Finch. Writing in the Architects Journal, he noted: “Anyone who knew the area was delighted when Sheppard Robson came forward with a mixed-use proposal to replace the dreaded car park, and are now rather baffled as to why the substitute is being given such a hard time.”
He added: “For some reason there is no sense of irony at work in the minds of planning committee members who, these days, expect their officers to do what they are told, rather than offer professional opinions which in theory should determine the outcome of applications.”
LPA Perspective: Once again, a north London borough sees a decent redevelopment proposal thrown out by its own planning committee members, despite the lengthy and diligent work undertaken by officers to finesse the best possible project for the particular site.
The locals want housing on the plot, and committee members have, apparently, decided the proposal is counter to policy.
But the numbers – exhaustively laid out by external specialists at the behest of planning officers – are there in the report. Building houses on this site does not make economic sense, while the proposal put before the committee does. Endeavour Land will simply not build, and an underused, and architecturally undistinguished site will remain – further still underused, as a Crossrail station launches just metres from it.
Locals and planning committee members not infrequently rail against the profits that developers expect to make from schemes. In Islington, here is an ample demonstration of the volume of time, effort and money that a dysfunctional planning committee can waste – all paid for by the developer.
As Paul Finch commented: “One can only sympathise with architects and clients trying to achieve rational outcomes in an irrational planning and political environment. How mad do you have to pretend to be in order to make the system work?”