Starmer adds to criticism of way Camden is dealing with underground hotel planning application

Criticism of Camden Council’s planning department is mounting due to the way it is dealing with an application to increase the number of rooms in an underground hotel below a side street off Tottenham Court Road.

Hotel on corner of street.
The underground hotel is being built in a former car park underneath the St Giles Hotel and Central YMCA.

Applicants Criterion Capital are currently constructing the concrete bunker in a former car park in Great Russell Street underneath the St Giles Hotel and Central YMCA. They received planning permission on appeal in 2016 after Camden’s planning committee had originally rejected the plans, and against Camden’s officers who were recommending it be approved.

Criterion now want to increase the number of rooms in the hotel and have submitted a section 73 application to amend the description of the development to state 208 bedrooms instead of 166 and make a number of other changes.

This will be the second part of a two-step procedure that they initiated earlier this year. The first part, an s96A application, was approved by planning officers in June this year, despite numerous objections to the plans and about the way planning officers were handling the application.

Criterion are currently completing 208 rooms despite only having planning permission for 166 — a situation Camden Council is fully aware of but states it does not warrant enforcement action.

The Bloomsbury Association who strongly object to the application says that a full planning application should be submitted and decided by a planning committee because the proposals are significantly different to the approved scheme.

Andrew Dismore London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden and Keir Starmer MP for Holborn and St Pancras have both written comments on the application criticising the way planning officers are allowing a significant alteration to the original planning application to be decided by way of a minor amendment, thereby leaving the decision in the hands of officers and not elected councillors.

Starmer states that in his view the application is not for a minor alteration and should therefore be determined by councillors at a planning committee.

Dismore commented on the application saying: “In my opinion a s73 application is inappropriate to deal with the wholesale changes that have been made”. He also states that the procedure “may be unlawful and it is an abuse of the planning system”.

He criticised the way Camden’s officers are dealing with the application: “The changes need to be considered by a new full planning application and determined by proper Member and public scrutiny, not decided by officers behind closed doors.” He also raises concerns about the amendment of a number of s106 obligations. He says the application should be refused.

A lawyer acting for the neighbouring St Giles Hotel submitted comments saying that if Camden allows the application to proceed via the s73 route it would prejudice third parties. David Cooper writes in his objection stating that he would recommend to his client to “judicially review Camden’s decision” if the application is approved as a s73 minor amendment.

A Camden Council spokesperson told Fitzrovia News:

“As previously stated the council’s ability to take enforcement action on cases like this where a breach is evident, but there is no immediate and serious harm as a result, is restricted by the legislation and guidance on enforcement.

“The council would welcome the introduction of tougher and more robust enforcement powers for local planning authorities, something which is advocated in the Planning White Paper.

“Officers considered that the proposed changes to the scheme would constitute minor material amendments taking account of planning guidance.

“An application of this nature is subject to the same level of consultation and scrutiny as a full planning application. It is incorrect to state that this means the decision sits in the hands of officers and not elected Councillors.

“Whilst the application would not automatically be referable, because of the extent of objection were officers minded to recommend approval the application would need to be reported to the members briefing panel who having reviewed it can request that it to be referred to Planning Committee for their determination.”

Planning Application: 2020/3107/P – 112A Great Russell Street London WC1B 3NP.