By Linus Rees

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced in June that he will determine a planning application to redevelop the Saatchi & Saatchi building in Fitzrovia and could overturn the decision made by Camden Council in May to refuse planning permission. The Mayor will use powers gained in 2008 which enables him to intervene on strategically important development sites. A hearing will take place this month and campaign group the Charlotte Street Association (CSA) will argue the case for refusing planning permission.

The intervention by the Mayor comes after a decision by Camden Council to refuse permission for Derwent London plc to redevelop the site in Charlotte Street with a scheme which would increase the floor space by nearly 70 percent, add extra storeys and include new retail and restaurant uses. And importantly for the Mayor, the development would also provide a £1.6m contribution towards Crossrail.

The Crossrail contribution means that less housing, social housing and virtually no open space would be provided on the site because of viability issues.

Councillor Tom Neumark, who chairs Camden’s planning committee, said: “We threw out this plan because it lacked affordable homes and open space and faced serious objections from people living there. It did not fit our policy. The Mayor insisted on taking the maximum contribution from the developers for Crossrail which means the developer could offer little else,” said Mr Neumark.

The Mayor will now consider the application and conservation area consent in more detail and decide whether planning permission should be granted. However, Mr Johnson said he believed the plans would significantly “contribute to the competitiveness of London’s wider economy.”

Ahead of the hearing the Charlotte Street Association (CSA) has made representation outlining their concerns about the proposed development. Max Neufeld secretary of the CSA describes how the Mayor is ignoring other planning policies of the London Plan.

“Nowhere in the [London] Plan is there any policy which ranks financial contributions to Crossrail as having priority over other strategic policies in the Plan. Given that viability is a central consideration, any wish to maximise the Crossrail contribution will inevitably create a situation where other strategic policies designed to sustain existing and future residential communities are sacrificed,” writes Neufeld in a letter to the Greater London Authority.

The sheer size of the proposed development is “totally alien to Fitzrovia and would be extremely damaging, and it does not accord with the London Plan” in a number of ways.

National planning guidance requires developments to make a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness.

The planning application by Derwent London also does not conform to a range of planning policies with regard to mix of uses. Camden’s Local Development Framework states that increases in commercial floorspace should be matched by an equivalent area of residential use. Derwent’s plans only provide 53 percent of the required residential.

With regard to housing units, the proposals offer only 27 percent of the target for affordable housing: 15 homes instead of 55 including only one family-sized affordable unit.

Neufeld states that affordable housing provision must also be seen in the context of Camden’s central area south of the Euston Road. In the ten years up to 2009 there was a net loss of affordable housing.

Similarly, no new open space has been provided in Fitzrovia since Crabtree Fields in the mid-1980s, to match the needs generated by the large increases in commercial floor space since then. The almost total lack of open space in the development will put increased pressure on every other open space in a area identified as deficient. Only a derisory 231 square metres is offered, less than a tenth of what is required.

The site is also located in an area which has high deprivation levels with regard to housing, services and living environment. Much of this deprivation is hidden behind the glossy facades of restaurants and bars promoted by the media.

The hearing will take place at City Hall, The Queens Walk, London SE1 2AA at 6.30pm on Monday 19 September 2011. See the GLA website for up to date information.