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.