A planning inspector will this month hear arguments from Camden’s planners and from University College London Hospitals Charity in what could be the conclusion to a long-running dispute over social housing on the former Middlesex Hospital Annex — and former Strand Union Workhouse — site in Cleveland Street.
I say “could be the conclusion” because this miserable saga and waste of public money is likely to drag on.
UCLH Charity are asking the planning inspector to overturn the decision of Camden Council which refused permission for it to slash the amount of social housing on the former hospital site which is currently being developed.
Camden could have resolved the long-running dispute many years ago by enacting a clause in a 2004 legal agreement to buy the whole site for £1 and build the housing itself.
But in 2015 the then leader of the council, Sarah Hayward, said that this would not be a fit and proper use of public money.
“What was agreed was that if they didn’t build it we would be able to purchase the site off them for £1. If we enforce that it would be one publicly funded taxpayer institution taking on another publicly funded institution. We are trying not to do that as we don’t want to line the lawyers’ pockets,” she told a public meeting.
But it seems that UCLH Charity have no compunction about spending its grant-making funds on legal fees and taking on another publicly funded body.
Its main argument is that the development is no longer viable with the amount of social housing it is obliged to provide. It cites the rising costs of construction and archaeological work, and that it has not benefited by the development of the other hospital sites which are part of the 2004 legal agreement.
UCLH Charity bought the site in March 2017 from UCLH NHS Trust which had redeveloped a number of sites in south Camden.
By that time the Middlesex Annex main building had already been listed by English Heritage and its history was well known, including the presence of a burial site.
Without having to stick a spade in the ground, a 2017 archaeological report anticipated — what many people already knew — that thousands of human remains were likely to be on the site.
Yet in their statement of appeal UCLH Charity claims:
“The extent of underground archaeology was unknown (and could not have been known) until the wings were demolished, and during that process, more than 1,000 articulated skeletons in communal burial pits were discovered, recorded and removed.”
Camden Council rightly dismisses the claims made by UCLH Charity and states, among other things, that the charity acquired the site with full knowledge of the circumstances.
When you buy a second hand building plot, you get it “as seen”. Caveat emptor, and all that.
No-one forced UCLH Charity to buy it… except, perhaps, UCLH NHS Trust. Who knows what goes on in a basement car park of a PFI-built hospital these days?
Camden’s planners, for a pleasant change, are having none of it.
“The Council considers that the Charity’s situation is of its own making (or its predecessor, The Trust) due to the long delays in the delivery of the legacy units,” says Camden.
“The Council considers that the need for The Charity to honour its obligations is of utmost importance and the unviability of the proposal is not relevant in light of the fact The Trust has benefited from the ability to defer its earlier commitments to the provision of affordable housing.”
A planning inspector will now attempt to settle the argument after a costly two-day hearing.
But the matter won’t end there because UCLH Charity is taking a belt-and-braces approach — ie, paying twice — and simultaneously “issuing a claim against LB Camden in the High Court to seek a declaration (amongst other matters) to confirm that the 2004 Agreement ceased to have effect as of 29 July 2009”.
So much for not wanting to line the lawyers’ pockets.
Appeal by University College London Hospitals Charity against refusal of a Variation or Removal of Condition(s). 10 am on Wednesday 19 October 2022 at the Crowndale Centre, 218 Eversholt Street, London NW1 1BD. (2021/3087/P – Middlesex Hospital Annex, 44 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JT)