Boris Johnson’s planning decisions in his final months as mayor

2 June 2016, Blog

The former mayor, Boris Johnson used his mayoral power to call-in 19 planning applications during his eight year tenure at City Hall. In his last three months as mayor in 2016, four applications which were wrestled from the hands of local borough authorities were decided by the Mayor’s office.

Two other applications – Wimbledon Football Stadium and the Bishopsgate Goodsyard development – which were called-in by Johnson but not determined now fall into the remit of the new mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Johnson held four public hearings for called-in applications in his last three months in charge – signifying 24% of the total number of hearings, in just 4% of his time as mayor. This statistic gives credence to the opinion that Johnson was ‘rushing through’ planning decisions on major London projects.

Indeed, Johnson decided the fate of two called-in schemes, the Westferry Printworks and the Alpha Square project with just two weeks left in office. The Alpha Square scheme was called-in with just six weeks to weigh up the arguments. The process normally takes at least three months.

When we examine the pattern of the four applications (see below for details), the local decisions on the four applications were overridden in favour of approval at GLA level, thus following the pattern set by all Boris’ called-in schemes. Interestingly, two of the four were from Tower Hamlets Council and two from Islington Council, two Labour councils known to demand a high level of affordable housing from developers. James Murray, the former housing chief at Islington Council and recently announced deputy mayor for housing, introduced new rules at his council to make it more difficult for developers to avoid building affordable homes.

We know that Boris Johnson was very concerned with creating a ‘legacy’ before he left office and the nature of the applications he approved could help to explain his rationale for doing so. The substantial number of homes and new schools offered in two of the developments, Alpha Square and Westferry Printworks mean that they are two developments which could define the former mayor as someone who delivered much-needed housing and infrastructure. This may have been particularly important to Johnson given the stick he was receiving from the press at the end of his term when the figures showed that he had not met his housing targets.

It will be interesting to see how the new mayor, Sadiq Khan uses his power to call-in applications; in head-to-heads with his rival Zac Goldsmith he had suggested he’d use the powers liberally. His pre-election pledges to affordable housing may mean that, contrary to Boris, he calls in applications that have been given consent if they don’t have the appropriate level of affordable homes.

Helena Frisby, Account Manager at JBP

1. Alpha Square, Isle of Dogs

634 homes, a 20-floor hotel of 231 rooms and a new school and health centre.

Local authority: Tower Hamlets Council

Local authority decision: Refusal. The council’s decision for refusal was based on signs of overdevelopment, a failure to maximise the delivery of affordable housing and an incomplete Environmental Statement.

GLA decision: Approval (subject to a 106 agreement). The key reasons given for approval by the GLA are that the proposal will help to unlock development in the Isle of Dogs Opportunity Area, will introduce a high quality mix of housing types and deliver the maximum affordable housing achievable in terms of viability.

2. Monmouth House, Islington

Four office blocks, including one 11 storeys high.

Local authority: Islington Council

Local authority decision: Refusal. The council’s decision for refusal was based on the proposal’s harm to the local environment; particularly the neighbouring grade II listed Bunhill Fields Burial Ground.

GLA decision: Approval. The key reasons given for approval by the GLA are that the proposal will provide much-needed space for the growing tech sector in the area. The former mayor said he did not accept that that the Bunhill Fields park would be damaged by the proposal.

3. Blossom Street, Islington

The conversion of Norton Foltgate, a historic set of streets on the edge of Spitalfields, into office space for small-to-medium companies, with new homes and shops.

Local authority: Islington Council                                           

Local authority decision: Refusal. The council’s decision for refusal was based on the development’s potential damage to the character and appearance of the conservation area and the low offering of housing in proportion to the employment space.

GLA decision: Approval (subject to a 106 agreement). The GLA’s office did not accept the council’s reasons for refusal and concluded that the proposals are in overall conformity with the development plan, while creating a wide range of job opportunities and local economic benefits.

4. Westferry Printworks, Isle of Dogs

Nine buildings of up to thirty-storeys comprising 737 homes, a new school and commercial space.

Local authority: Tower Hamlets Council

Local authority decision: Refusal. Tower Hamlets Council advised that, whilst the principle of the proposal is strongly supported, the application does not comply with the London Plan in terms of housing, design, flood risk and transport.

GLA decision: Approval (subject to a 106 agreement). The key reasons given for approval by the GLA are that the proposal would provide benefits including housing, employment and new homes, which outweigh any justified concerns about adverse impact on sailing quality in the north-west corner of the dock.

JBP Staff Member

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