By Linus Rees

The Mayor of London announced yesterday that he will determine a planning application to redevelop the Saatchi & Saatchi building in Fitzrovia and could overturn the decision made by Camden Council to refuse planning permission. The Mayor will use powers given in 2008 which enables him to intervene on strategically important development sites.

Why didn’t he say this earlier? Why have local people wasted the better part of the last 18 months talking to developers, attending pre-planning meetings, filling in comments at exhibitions, trying to get hold of documents and drawings, and talking to councillors?

Mayor Boris Johnson has now referred to Fitzrovia as “an internationally recognised hub for the global advertising industry” and redeveloping the Saatchi building will “contribute to the competitiveness of London’s wider economy”.

No mention was made of the residential population or its needs despite more than 8,000 people living around the site. The development proposals were never popular with local people and the Mayor’s intervention would appear to stand Localism on its head and make a mockery of the idea of the Big Society where volunteers contribute to shaping their neighbourhood.

In a letter sent to Camden Council’s planning officers on Monday the Mayor raised the need to meet office space needs, a contribution to Crossrail, and further commercial concerns.

The letter also stated that the “application will make a contribution to the strategic requirement for additional homes, including affordable homes”.

Yet only 55 homes are being offered and out of these only 10 would be socially-rented and five intermediate, well short of the targets set out in planning guidelines. Who is Boris kidding if he thinks people will believe he’s stepping in to save 10 housing association flats?

Camden Council refused planning permission in May after objections from individual residents, community groups and local councillors who argued that the plans amounted to an over-development, lacked affordable housing and provided insufficient public open space. Volunteers from the Charlotte Street Association and Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association had painstakingly examined the plans and submitted comments to Camden Council.

The application by Derwent London was presented earlier in the year more than 12 months after they first announced plans to redevelop the Saatchi block. Residents had met several times with the project managers of the development and had argued that the plans provided insufficient affordable housing, lacked public open space and would overly commercialise a mixed-use neighbourhood. At one point Fitzrovia News was accused of “mis-representing” the plans of Derwent London. In response Fitzrovia News granted Simon Silver, a director and head of regeneration at Derwent London, an interview with us.

Fitzrovia currently has a number of large development sites with planning permission in the pipeline. The Mayor’s intervention calls into question the worth of local people commenting on these forthcoming developments. It would appear that the idea of Localism and the Big Society only really amount to anything if they don’t conflict with commercial interests.

4 replies on “Saatchi block decision too important to be left in the hands of local democracy says Boris Johnson”

  1. The project was recommended for approval by Camdens planning officer’s. It is the development control committee bullied by a councillor who has no proffessional qualifications but proffesses to know about urban design.who are making a mockery of the planning system
    Quite rightly they should be bypassed.

  2. Right, so Local Democracy – including more than a handful of fairly intelligent well informed people – can not be trusted even to make criticisms of a development plan which flies in the face of nearly every element of planning policy.
    This is truly shocking.
    Without trying to exonerate Boris himself, I suspect this intervention is the work of some crony hack who is either in the pocket of the developers or simply clueless about the development.

    The development of the block has NOTHING to do with Saatchi or the advertising world.
    And is there a shortage of office space at this time when businesses everywhere are going under?
    Nobody can object to enhancing existing offices or, usually, to increasing their size if the increase is not to the detriment of other people such as residents.
    Also this Derwent plan clearly is a detriment, for very little gain on the office side.

    Surely this can not be the case that Boris now at the eleventh hour overrules NOT just Local Democracy but the elected Council which was scathing in its rejection of the plan.

  3. Local democracy means also the right to appeal a bad decision planning is not just left to the locals who will mostly object and councilors who seem to adopt a not in my back yard mentality there are planning acts and the owners of development sites and businesses have rights too.
    As a longstanding professional I personally did not like the scheme on design merits but I believe it passed most of the checks on planning policy it could have been improved with a little more effort. I was quite taken aback by the viciousness of the objections and ill informed misrepresentations which seemed to be based on personal prejudice and not planning. The development control committee seem to think that all development needs to contribute to social housing and that we are living in some sort of urban utopia and not high density inner cities where its impossible not to cause any impact at all or fully meet open space requirements.
    Its not just this scheme this committee has rejected more schemes which have been recommended for approval by planning officers. Whats the point of having extensive discussions with the local authority and making painful compromises,to meet what are very high standards in the local LDF framework, to agree a scheme after a year or so of design effort and huge expenses. Then to have it rejected at committee, by councilors who live in cloud cuckoo land.
    A dangerous pattern is emerging which is bad for democracy, the Saatchi’s of this world have their contacts and they can get away with their proposals but what about poorer individuals who fall foul of this Stalinist committee. Personaly I will avoid design in Camden its not worth the heartache.

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