Rival designs for the Mount Pleasant Royal Mail site in north London have been submitted to Camden planners.
The scheme, designed by Francis Terry and submitted by the Mount Pleasant Association, have the backing of a developer, U+I, and pension fund investor Legal & General. But they are set against an dense redevelopment for landlowner Royal Mail, which has already been granted planning consent.
Promoter MPA hopes to exploit “community right to build” powers, enshrined in the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012. It has been working for more than a year on the alternative plans, for a small portion of the site at Phoenix Place.
The proposals include 125 homes as a mix of one, two and three bed flats, in a series of blocks of between four and eight storeys. There would be a small amount of commercial space, with the roof terraces of the blocks available as a communal space.
The scheme also includes a pocket park, and has a layout designed to reintroduce permeability across the site with new walking routes and publicly accessible spaces.
If the project is successful in winning consent, the aim is to consider extending the approach to a larger proposal for the whole site.
The association previously battled against the consented scheme, which Boris Johnson approved in October 2015. It called the decision “bad for London and a Pyrrhic victory for the Royal Mail and their ‘award-winning architects.’” Curiously, Johnson also encouraged the MPA to submit a planning application.
The consented scheme is for 681 homes on the Mount Pleasant site. Already there has been debate over the affordable housing element of the scheme, with Royal Mail saying it could only deliver 24% affordable units, while Islington planners said over 40% ought to be possible. Camden councillors also pointed out that the level of affordable rents being mentioned were in no way affordable for normal residents. Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley commented: “This is a site that was until recently owned by the taxpayer, which is now being developed for big profits for RMG shareholders. The taxpayer has already lost once due to the undervaluation of Royal Mail when it was sold. Now they’re losing again.”
LPA Perspective: Here is a rare instance of a community coming together to present a practical alternative to the “big business” approach. Ironically, a Community Right to Build Order is only valid for schemes of 150 homes or less, meaning the MPA scheme is restricted to just part of the site covered by the other consented scheme.
Planners under pressure to deliver lots more housing will need to balance their desire to hit the numbers, against a rival proposal which could deliver less, albeit a design that appears much more grounded with the support of local residents. Should it approve both, then the now privately owned Royal Mail will need to consider its options – and whether the backers of this rival scheme can match the offer others may make, to deliver its original redevelopment scheme.
At some point, calls for a judicial review are likely.