Posts Tagged planning

Building for the future

More evidence that despite optimistic Government pronouncements, the long tail of the recession is still affecting us.

Shelter have published figures showing a fall in house-building, mortgage lending is down, and unemployment in London is the worst since Labour came to power in 1997.

Last week I met with the National Federation of Roofing Contractors, based in Finsbury. They do great work cracking down on cowboy traders, and promoting green roofs, in partnership with the inspiring Dusty Gedge. But like many in the construction industry, their members are facing a downturn in orders, with knockon effects on suppliers and retailers across the country.

There’s a stronger case than ever for the kind of green jobs programme that the Liberal Democrats are promoting, including plans to bring quarter of a million empty homes into use. These are jobs that help communities with better housing and transport, while fighting climate change; and as hands-on jobs, they can’t be exported. That’s good news for the roofers too.

The recession may have caused a fall in new building, but Islington remains one of the most densely populated parts of the UK, so getting the right planning policies is vital. As I’ve blogged before, most of us only get involved in the planning process when a particular proposal comes up that affects us; but by then the planning policies have already been written. Islington’s planning policy framework, the core strategy, is under review.

Now the Council has produced a useful summary of the latest changes proposed following input from various groups in the borough, plus outside agencies like English Heritage. They range from stronger support for independent shops to providing sites for travellers and gypsies.

The core strategy is out for consultation now. Have your say by writing to Freepost, RSEA-CUHA-YYAS, Planning Policy, Islington Council, Upper Street, London, N1 1XR, or via email. Any comments must be received by 5pm on Monday 22 March and will then go on to the Planning Inspector who has the final say on the Islington plans.

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Planning in Islington: let’s get it right!

Even the smallest planning decisions can have a massive impact.

During the Euro elections I heard from one man so frustrated that his change-of-use application was turned down at least 5 years ago that it still affects his voting intentions today. What was routine policy (and technically entirely correct) for the Council, was an unwelcome and life-changing decision for him.

And in the last couple of weeks I’ve met more people with planning on their mind: from an architect enthusiastic about designs for homes, workshops and new open space on an old industrial estate, to the family upset that a neighbour’s controversial extension has got the go-ahead.

Even more distressing was the rejection of plans for a new community centre at St David’s Church on Westbourne Road. The church building, like so many, had been surplus to CofE requirements, and so leased to another denomination, in this case the Greek Orthodox. They have now moved to a new home in Islington, leaving St David’s empty once more. In the interim, a new Anglican congregation had started worshipping in the church hall, and running busy community projects.

Working with the community, the church came up with plans that would bring the old church building back into use, not just for worship on Sundays, but as a place of service throughout the week, including a new home for the fantastic Prospex youth club (they work with some of the most excluded kids in the area). The plans even had hundreds of petition signatures in favour. So what was the problem?

Well, the community centre works have to be financed somehow, and the plan was to sell the current church hall site for housing; mostly private, although with some units for social rent and for the church’s own staff. And this ran up against the local Labour party’s unbending insistence on 50% affordable housing – whatever the context and whatever the planning policies actually say – in part of the borough where they dominate the area planning committee.

Everyone knows we need affordable homes in Islington (and it’s good the LibDem Council is building more). But even if there was a 100% rule there would still not be enough homes to go round.

We need more homes – but also the facilities to make those homes a decent place to live. And that’s why I think Labour’s rejection of the St David’s scheme was such a big mistake. A real benefit has been lost to a community that really needed it – by the very people elected to represent them. And it’s not just me saying that. Hopefully there will be a rethink or an appeal: watch this space.

It’s really important that the planning policy framework is right; yet most people, understandably, only encounter planning policy when their own application or objection is up for decision.

So I thought I’d share this email received yesterday:

Your Neighbourhood, Your Islington, is Islington’s Core Planning Strategy. It sets out our plans for the future of the borough up to 2025. Its aim is to make Islington a better place to live and work. As well as setting out how different parts of the borough might develop, it also sets out Islington’s approach to important issues including how we will seek to improve the built environment, provide for affordable housing and employment spaces, respond to climate change, and provide facilities for our communities.

Over the last year we have sought the views of residents and organisations on these and other issues. We have now produced a first draft of the plan called the Core Strategy Direction of Travel.

You can view the Core Strategy Direction of Travel at: our website, your local library, or the Municipal Offices, 222 Upper Street, N1 1XR

If you would like a paper copy of the plan, or have any questions then please email or call 020 7527 6799.

We would welcome any comments in writing by post or by email. Please send these by post to Planning Policy, 222 Upper Street, N1 1XR , or by email. It would help if you could send any comments to us by Monday 3 August 2009.

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End of the road for the Mall

Hazel Blears’ Planning Inspectorate has ridden roughshod over local views again.

Last year it was the Old Street tower; now it’s the redevelopment of the Mall at Camden Passage.

Camden Passage is a unique mix of market stalls and permanent antiques shops. Over recent years it’s become diluted with more fashion shops and eateries, but the core antiques business is still strong. And one of the most distinctive buildings in the area is the Mall.

That’s partly because it’s the most visible bit of Camden Passage, being on Upper Street; and the first bit you reach from the Angel tube. And partly because it’s such an interesting building. Originally it was a tramshed, part of the North Metropolitan Tramways Company set up in 1871, operating horse-drawn trams.

It’s long had a restaurant upstairs (formerly the wonderful Lola’s) and downstairs, a collection of small specialist antiques shops creating the famous mall.

I’ve blogged before about the battle to defend the Mall from developers. Unable to touch the outside of the building, they applied to take down the partitions creating the mall effect inside to create one large retail unit – and not for antiques. It’s not just vandalism, it’s daft too. Surely it’s counter-intuitive to these recessionary times to put all the eggs in one large basket, compared to the range of thriving small shops. That’s the developers’ problem. But it also undermines the character of Camden Passage. And that’s bad news for all of us who love Islington.

The traders fought a fine campaign. Councillors of both parties, headed by Council leader James Kempton, objected to the plans. The Council rejected the plans and fought the case at appeal.

Clearly all the Labour government’s talk of the new localism is so much hot air.

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Boris is eyeing up our planning gain

Throughout his time as Mayor, Ken Livingstone was pressing for controversial powers to ‘top-slice’ section 106 money for London-wide projects.

Section 106 money is the community benefit negotiated by local councils in their role as planning authorities to compensate their communities for the negative impact of new developments. It can range from making builders restore broken pavements to making a development car-free to reduce pressure on the local environment, all the way up to multi-million pound funding of affordable homes, transport improvements and community facilites, as with the new Arsenal stadium.

The worry about Ken’s top-slice idea was that local communities would get all the disruption from the developments, but the community benefit would be siphoned off to support the Mayor’s pet projects elsewhere. I was part of the cross-party lobby to save our community benefits.
After all, if an infrastructure project is benefitting a borough, then the council will be happy to negotiate a S106 contribution to its costs themselves.

Roll on to 2008. When he was standing to be Mayor, Boris promised a partnership with boroughs, not the arrogance of Ken. Is he keeping his promise? Well, Tory Westminster don’t seem to think so. They’ve just given permission for a 19-storey office block at Victoria, which will generate £12M community benefit for their residents. But now Boris wants £20M from the same scheme to go towards Crossrail.

This could set a precedent for other boroughs facing large developments – including Islington. Hands off our money, Boris!

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Blears forces skyscraper on Bunhill

Controversial plans for a 39 storey tower block at Old Street have been approved by Secretary of State Hazel Blears despite being turned down by Islington Council.

As local Lib Dem councillor Ruth Polling says “the concerns of local people have been completely dismissed by the Labour minister, and now this 39-storey corporate identikit monstrosity will be built anyway.”

Here’s an artist’s impression of the block, looking up City Road from outside Wesley’s Chapel.

The 1950s building on the immediate right of the picture is Oliver House – built on the site of the jewellery shop where my Grandad lived and worked for most of his life. He moved out when he got married, but worked there until it was bombed in the war. There was a 2005 planning application to redevelop that site too: as an apart-hotel that’s a mere six storeys tall….

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Planning ahead

Most of us care about planning policy – even if we don’t know it at the time.

I was door-knocking in Canonbury the other day and called on an eminent economist. “Aha, I’m glad you’ve called, there’s something very important I want to ask your views on“; so in I went, frantically invoking the spirit of Vince and dredging key policies from the memory bank. And then it turned out to be about a nearby planning application. Not interest rates, but lots of interest. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Planning applications rouse strong passions. Some unite – or divide – whole neighbourhoods. Others may only involve one or two people, but still have such a lasting impact – after all, it’s your home, your business, your life.

A lot of Islington people take an active interest in local planning issues, but many more, understandably, don’t have much to do with the planning process until they’re concerned about a specific application. And suddenly you can find that ‘policy’ is against you.

The planning policy framewok is overhauled about once a decade – and Islington’s is being looked at now. It has to go through several stages of consultation and the latest has gone live here.

There are sections on housing, open spaces, environment, jobs, tall buildings, shops and transport, among others. A lot of the planning rules are set by central Government, or the London Plan, but there are still some areas where Islington can make its own policy.

Various interest groups from big developers to the local Friends of the Earth will no doubt have their say.

I’d encourage individuals to register, take a look, make comments, and suggest any changes. More than your loft conversion may be at stake….

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More from the Mall

Earlier this year I blogged about the battle to keep Camden Passage special. The new owner of the Mall (LAP) has been trying to get rid of the small traders who share it, despite the Council and the community fighting the changes all the way.

Having lost their planning application, the developers were expected to appeal.

The latest news, according to the Islington Tribune, is not good. Instead of waiting for the planning appeal, the owners are moving straight to eviction, something the Council has no power to stop.

Trader Jan Van Den Bosch told the Tribune: “I think Islington Council have been brilliant and supported us to the end. At the end of the day we need new powers from the government to fight developments like this.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Meanwhile, LAP are so interested in our community that their website seems to think we’re in Dagenham….

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Turning the Corner

Has Boris lost the plot? First he backtracks on bendy buses. Now there are fears he’s abandoning plans for better public spaces too.

When campaigning to be Mayor, Boris said “At their best, London’s open spaces are quite simply breathtaking…. Our environment has an enormous impact on our sense of wellbeing, and it is vital that we cherish our city and strive to make it cleaner and greener.” His environment manifesto went further: “Above all I will work to make London a pleasant and safe place to live, by nurturing
and protecting the public spaces that bind us all together.”

Back in 2002, Mayor Ken launched the 100 public spaces programme. Thie idea was to have 100 new or improved people-friendly squares across the capital before the 2012 Olympics – the sort of initiative that will give Londoners a real legacy. Ten pilot projects were announced in July 2002, and 14 more in 2003. By 2005, 34 sites had been identified, including Highbury Corner.

Like so much of Islington, Highbury Corner was, literally, shaped by World War II. In 1944, the traditional street pattern was destroyed by a V1 flying bomb – and the area’s been a bit of a mess ever since. Recently that’s begun to change.

There’s a plaque commemorating the bombing on the wall at the north end of Compton Terrace (championed by the late Michael Marland). Nearby used to be some dusty and neglected concrete tubs, but now there’s fresh planting protected by smart railings.

The entrance to Highbury Place has been widened and repaved. The old CAB building next door got burned down years ago; now the hoarding around its site has been brightened up and is less of a blot on the landscape.

Groundwork improved the forecourt at Highbury & Islington station (still a ‘temporary’ building), and they got local schools to paint the flower tubs outside the Marie Curie Cancer Care shop.

But for bigger changes we need action from TfL and the Mayor.

Islington’s been working with TfL to develop plans to transform the corner, closing one arm to traffic, increasing the public space available, and making it safer, greener and more attractive for all. Local councillors fought to ensure Compton Terrace’s historic trees were not at risk. All policies Boris claims to support.

Late last year it looked like things were moving, with different options out for consultation. Since then we’ve been eagerly awaiting the results from the Mayor. But now it’s all gone horribly quiet.

Highbury Corner matters to Islington. It will be a betrayal if Boris abandons it now.

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Smithfield saved!

I’ve just picked up this message from local campaigner and Clerkenwell councillor George Allan, who is a former Chair of the Smithfield Trust.

“I thought you would like to know that the good news that the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government has refused permission to a developer (Thornfield, and the City Corporation) to demolish most of the west end of Smithfield for a series of giant office buildings. Much of the case for this was said to be the need to repair the roof of the railway tunnels under the area. These are the two lovely Victorian market buildings at the Farringdon St end, not the main ones at the bottom of St John St, which are not threatened.

“The scheme had been widely condemned, notably by columnists such as Simon Jenkins. SAVE took the lead in fighting the Corporation’s plans through a lengthy public inquiry. Its press release is attached.

“This is a landmark decision on conservation. The way forward is now likely to be refurbishment with a mix of retail and commercial space.

“Forgive my elation but this is something I have been working to achieve for nearly 20 years! I got the old GLC to designate the area as a Conservation Area at its last-ever meeting in 1986 and because English Heritage refused to list the buildings, their conservation area status was the only thing that saved them!

“I’m off to Smithfield for a glass of champagne this evening!”

They say a week is a long time in politics, but six months is a short time in government… still 20 years is quite a marathon. (Incidentally, George is a marathon runner too….)

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Green light for Crossrail – at last

I’m still pinching myself, but it looks as if Crossrail really is happening.

Now the Crossrail Act has been passed, all they have to do is build the thing. It’s been a long-time coming; the original Crossrail Bill was tabled in 1991. The final project won’t open til 2017, long after the London Olympics have been & gone. And there’s still some uncertainty about the funding. But despite all the doubts and delays, Crossrail is really good news.

Islington benefits with a new station at Farringdon. The very ugly Cardinal House should be demolished, and thanks to the lobbying of Islington councillors, there will now be one new ticket hall to serve both Crossrail and Thameslink2000, rather than the original nonsense proposal for two, unconnected buildings (maximum pain for minimum gain).

Now the works have the go-ahead, the challenge for Islington Council is to assist Crossrail, while being probably the only agency involved to stop and worry about local residents. It’s important that someone sticks up for the local community.

Major rail projects aren’t new to Islington. I remember when the Channel Tunnel rail link came through Islington, with major works around the Caledonian Road. The space under the Cally where they planned to tunnel was already crowded with fragile Victorian sewers and gas pipes as well as more modern cabling. The firms delivering the project wanted to close the Cally to through traffic, for their ‘utility mitigation works’ which would have caused chaos locally. The Government could (ahem) railroad through any necessary enabling measures, even if the Council objected. Officers were ready to say yes. So Cllr Rupert Perry & I sat up til 1am at an Islington planning committee, to argue the case against (well-briefed, as ever, by the Cally Rail Group). We ended up with single lane traffic and temporary traffic lights: not ideal, but much better for the locals than the original plans. There may well be similar battles ahead for Farringdon….

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