Mayor of London Boris Johnson has approved a major redevelopment scheme in the heart of Fitzrovia after a public hearing at City Hall on Monday evening lasting more than two hours. The mayor overturned a decision made by Camden Council in May this year to refuse planning permission for Derwent London plc to carry out a major redevelopment at the Saatchi & Saatchi building in Charlotte Street.
The development was opposed by residents, campaign groups and conservationists who argued at the hearing that the proposals were an over-development, and that more affordable housing and more public open space should have been included. Less than 30 percent of the target for affordable housing is planned: 16 homes instead of 55 including only one family-sized affordable unit. And only 231 square metres of open space is offered, less than a tenth of what is required.
But the mayor dismissed calls for more affordable housing and open space on the site because of the development’s close proximity to the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station. The mayor argued he needed to impose the full £1.6m Crossrail contribution for what he described as a “vital piece of transport infrastructure”.
The mayor angered residents when he stated during his decision speech that because Fitzrovia has had little recent improvement in affordable housing provision that the offered 16 homes should be seen as a good deal.
His decision was met will calls of “Shame!” from residents in the public gallery of the assembly chamber, but with little surprise or reaction from Derwent London’s entourage.
Planning case officer Sarah Considine took nearly an hour to describe how the redevelopment designed by Make architects would demolish the internal mews and Victorian buildings, the Charlotte Street and Howland Street facades, and infill the site with new floor plates and add extra storeys. The new build would consist of office, retail, restaurant, residential and a pocket park. She recommended that the mayor approve the plans.
Also demolished will be the Pregnant Man pub which sits in the open space in the middle of the Saatchi block and is used by staff on the site.
Camden Council’s deputy leader Sue Vincent and Camden’s head of development management Frances Wheat described why the council had rejected Derwent London’s plans on sound planning grounds.
Four people made spoken deputations opposing the plans during the hearing.
Bloomsbury ward councillor and local resident Adam Harrison told the mayor that overruling Camden Council was threatening the principle of “localism” which the government is so keen to promote. Mr Harrsion stated that “both public open space and affordable housing” were of great concern for people living in Fitzrovia and “we are crying out for more family-sized affordable housing in this part of the borough”. While recognising the importance of business in Fitzrovia, Mr Harrison stressed that “Fitzrovia is not the glossy area that some see it as. It contains a substantial amount of deprived households. It is time that development started to work for Fitzrovia, rather than Fitzrovia work for development”.
Speaking on behalf of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, architect Jim Monahan criticised the design of the development for not respecting the surrounding urban form. He described the construction of floor plates pushed against the windows of the 1930s facade on Whitfield Street as a “hideous way of treating what is a very nice building”. He stated that the design fails because the developers “are being far too greedy”. The scheme is fundamentally flawed because the developers are trying to pile too much onto the site.
Rob Gunns a resident living directly opposite the site in Chitty Street told the mayor that residents in this narrow street will be the most adversely affected by the “increase from four floors to nine floors”. The Charlotte Street area is low-rise and characterised by “restaurants, galleries and small production companies”. Mr Gunns argued that “it is not a high-density, high-rise office area” and as a result the new building will “not be sympathetic to the local character but domineering”. He asked why can other developers make four or five floors financially viable when Derwent cannot. He criticised Derwent London for having a “relaxed attitude to local residents” by failing to properly consult before the planning application. Mr Gunns stated that the high rise building will take away up to 30 percent of residents’ daylight.
Max Neufeld of the Charlotte Street Association attacked the mayor’s planning officer’s report as being “solely motivated to maximise the Crossrail levy” and prioritises this over other strategic policies with regard to housing and public open space. “This cannot be disguised by your officer’s Alice in Wonderland, words-mean-what-I-want-them-to-mean report”. The Crossrail levy by its very nature encourages over-development. “The bigger the development, the bigger the contribution. In this case we have a 69 percent increase in floorspace on an already fully developed site,” stated Neufeld.
But two people wanted to speak in support of Derwent London. June O’Sullivan CEO of London Early Years Foundation welcomed the single affordable family housing unit and the small open space. Local resident Dr June Crown also wanted to speak but instead opted to have her speech read out by planning officer Sarah Considine. Dr Crown wrote that she welcomed the scheme because it would offer employment for local people. She also wished the scheme would allow parking for disabled people so that they could participate in employment on the site.
In an amusing aside, Boris Johnson interrupted his planning officer to say that contrary to what Dr Crown thought, he would approve a Fitzroy Square type scheme saying: “I would approve it, but whether you could get a developer to do it is another matter…”
Written objections were received from the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee and North Cleveland Street Neighbourhood Watch. Written support for the plans were received from the Maxclif House and Thirteen Tottenham Street Joint Resident’s Association as well as seven unnamed business occupiers.
In a press release Derwent London’s chief executive John Burns said: “We are pleased that our 80 Charlotte Street planning application has been approved by the Mayor of London.”
Saatchi & Saatchi will have to leave the site in March 2013 and Derwent London expect to complete the £125m redevelopment in late 2015.
Derwent London also plan to redevelop the nearby Network Building in Tottenham Court Road. Although already the freeholders of the site they acquired the headlease earlier this year.