Inspector overturns London borough's refusal of 319-home, 30-storey tower scheme

Planning permission for 319 homes in two residential towers rising up to 30 storeys on the Isle of Dogs in east London has been granted on appeal, despite the scheme proposing an affordable housing level less than half of the minimum local policy requirement.

An artist's impression of plans for Millharbour.
An artist's impression of plans for Millharbour.

Inspector Paul Jackson overturned an earlier decision by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to refuse permission for the 26- and 30-storey towers, comprising 319 homes and 1,708 square metres of retail and community space.

Plans for the 0.65 hectare site were submitted by developer Healey Development Solutions (Millharbour) in November 2016 and rejected by the council in January 2018. An inquiry was held between 23 and 30 October this year.

According to the council's decision notice, the scheme was refused because its "excessive scale and height" would be "overbearing" and "demonstrates clear symptoms of over development and excessive density". 

The notice also cited the "absence of a legal agreement to secure agreed and policy compliant financial and non-financial contributions, including for affordable housing".

The inspector considered the main issues to be the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area, and whether a late-stage viability review mechanism to capture any uplift in land value to provide more affordable homes was desirable or necessary as part of the section 106 agreement.

Jackson said the new towers "would simply extend an existing area of higher built form" and "would be relatively slim compared to many other lower but more bulky schemes in the area".

"Importantly, it has not been shown that there is a significant conflict with current and emerging policy guidance."

The applicant proposed that 16 per cent of the units be affordable housing - a figure accepted by the council’s consultants to be the maximum viable figure.

However, the council’s core strategy specifies that contributions should be between 35 and 50 per cent and the developer had previously proposed up to 40 per cent affordable housing.

Jackson said he accepted the developer may have initially been able to offer a higher affordable housing contribution on the assumption that planning approval could be swiftly secured and construction commenced quickly.

Given the scheme had gone to appeal, he said the previous affordable housing offer no longer carried any weight in justifying a late stage review. "I appreciate that the scheme has also moved on in design terms, involving increased costs," he said.

Advising that there was no policy requirement for a late stage review, he concluded that he did not believe the case for one to be imposed "has been convincingly made".

Overall, Jackson concluded that the proposed scheme showed "high quality of architectural design" and would make a "significant contribution towards the need for housing in Tower Hamlets and in London generally".

A planning framework for the Isle of Dogs, published jointly by the mayor of London and Tower Hamlets council earlier this year, has proposed up to 41,000 homes could be built in the area by 2041.

In October, plans for a 48-storey tower in Tower Hamlets were approved by an inspector who ruled the scheme would be "entirely consistent" with the character of the area.

In March, Tower Hamlets Council approved plans to turn a grade II listed former hospital in east London into its new town hall.

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