Tower Hamlets launches legal challenge to Jenrick's approval of 1,500-home printworks scheme

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has launched a legal challenge to the secretary of state’s recent decision to grant permission for the controversial redevelopment of the former Westferry Printworks against the advice of his own planning inspector.

A visualisation of the Westferry development. Pic: Westferry Development
A visualisation of the Westferry development. Pic: Westferry Development

In February, housing secretary Robert Jenrick allowed the 1,524-home scheme on the Isle of Dogs, even though his own planning inspector David Prentis had recommended refusal.

In his decision letter, Prentis said the proposal would fail to preserve the settings of the Old Royal Naval College, Tower Bridge, and the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

In July 2018, the council received a new planning application to redevelop the former Westferry Printworks, almost doubling the 722 homes previously approved in August 2016 by the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

The scheme was to be delivered in a series of buildings, the tallest of which would be 44 storeys including five towers, doubling the height of the previously approved scheme.

In March 2019, the applicant Westferry Developments Ltd lodged an appeal, arguing the council was taking too long to reach a decision on the application.

The council’s strategic development committee resolved in May 2019 that had it been able to do so, it would have refused permission.

In his decision letter, Jenrick ruled that concerns about the design were outweighed by the 1,524 new homes that it would deliver, adding that from some viewpoints, the scheme could be viewed as an extension of the nearby cluster of tall buildings at Canary Wharf.

The council is now seeking leave to judicially review Jenrick’s decision on the grounds that it was biased and favoured the developer.

The authority is arguing that the process the secretary of state followed in determining his appeal was influenced by a desire to help the developer to avoid a financial liability, notably the council’s revised Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges.

The new CIL schedule includes charges on the Westferry Printworks site, whereas the previous schedule did not.

The council has asked the court to order the disclosure of documents that it believes will show this was part of his consideration.

The Westferry Printworks decision was made one day before the council adopted changes to its CIL levels which would have obliged the landowners Northern & Shell to pay significantly more.

John Biggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “It is disappointing that we find ourselves in this position. In granting this appeal, the secretary of state went against the recommendations reached by a planning inspector after a lengthy public inquiry.

“We have concerns about the way he reached his decision and I hope the courts will now look closely at the circumstances. Our residents must be able to have confidence that where planning decisions are taken out of the hands of local authorities, robust and fair processes will be followed.”

Planning contacted the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for a comment but it had not responded at the time of publication.

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