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 ldf@islington.gov.uk 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.

4 Comments »

  1. […] homeless, without mentioning that it’s been offered a home by a local church (subject to planning permission…). He calls the area the ‘V’, not a name I’ve ever heard used for the […]

  2. Paul Convery said

    You are quite wrong to say that Labour’s “unbending insistence on 50% affordable housing” meant this scheme failed. You’re particularly bending the truth to claim there were “some” units of affordable housing. Actually there were just 2 out of 38 flats that would have been affordable.

    The scheme proposed to offer some space for local services but, as you say “how to pay for them?”. Is it really best to fund services by creating luxury housing. As I said at the committee: “We’re on the horns of a dilemma here – creating luxury flats to get community benefits that are needed. But high-end housing might worsen the divide in the borough.” From my experience, this is the wrong way to pay for social infrastructure.Especially if it results in putting a seven storey monolith right on the south west edge of Paradise Park.

  3. bridgetfox said

    Hello Paul,

    You are of course entitled to your opinion as others are to theirs!

    I quote two recent letters from the Gazette:

    25/6/09
    AS a Labour Party member I was shocked at the rigidity of the thinking of councillors who rejected the plan to convert the disused St David’s Church into a badly needed, multi-purpose local community centre.

    Their rigid application of the rule, that 50 per cent of each new housing development should be “affordable”, showed an absence of common sense and insufficient concern for the other needs of local people. – Ken Thompson, Liverpool Road, N7.

    1/7/2009
    I JOINED the Labour Party over 20 years ago because I believe in social justice. Like many other local residents, therefore, I registered my support for the recent proposal to restore St David’s Church in Lough Road. The scheme would have brought this disused building back to life, providing a range of services for low income families and others in need.

    Islington Council’s planning committee has deprived the local community of these services by rejecting the scheme – despite a recommendation for approval from the council’s own planning officers and despite receiving expressions of support from hundreds of local residents, which outnumbered opponents by a ratio of over 50:1.

    As a result of the committee’s decision, the services and social housing that the scheme would have delivered may now never happen. I know the committee would like the scheme to have included more social housing, but its intransigence on this point means that no housing – social or otherwise – will now be built, and no new services provided to support vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

    The St David’s scheme can still be rescued from the narrow-minded and mean-spirited thinking to which it has fallen victim. It is time for the council – and our MP, Emily Thornberry – to ditch dogmatism for pragmatism. They should reflect on the strong support that the scheme enjoys and seek to progress it – not obstruct it. The St David’s scheme will not solve every problem or address every need, but in an imperfect world it has a great deal to recommend it. – Simon Miller, Liverpool Road, N7.

    ——–

    Bridget

  4. Paul Convery said

    I am pretty sure that both Ken and Simon appreciate what we’re trying to do on the West Area planning committee … get affordable housing but also the necessary social infrastructure the neighbourhood needs. Perhaps the right question here is why isn’t the Council stepping forward to co-finance a community centre? Here’s s where Labour and Lib Dems part company usually – on how to achieve a desirable end without undesirable means to that end. I don’t think anybody when they think hard about it really backs a scheme to build 36 unafforable homes in order to finance a community centre. Are you really saying it’s acceptable to have yet another development typically costing £300,000+ for one bedroom flat? Anyway, I met with Jonathan Rust early last week to talk about a way forward – one that will achieve rather more bang for our collective buck. Stay posted.

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