Hammerson's £400million Bishops Place scheme in Shoreditch will have four towers of up to 52 storeys, 88,000 square metres of offices, a hotel and 240 flats
The application is presently being considered by the Greater London Authority (GLA), which also has power to overule the decision. But Hackney reported that the GLA had already approved the £11million cut in affordable housing which was linked, Hackney said, to Hammerson's agreement to pay the GLA £3.1million towards the London Mayor's Crossrail scheme.
The design of Hammerson's scheme by Foster and Partners has been condemned as "fundamentally flawed" by the government's design advisers, CABE, but its objections were not seen by Hackney's Planning Committee.
Desperate for cash Hackney Council owns most of the development site and stands to make tens of £millions under an option agreement to sell the site to Hammerson with the benefit of planning permission.The scheme first attracted controversy when Hackney recommended that its Planning Committee grant Hammerson permission to completely demolish The Light.
The Light, an historic building at 233 Shoreditch High Street, which stands as a landmark on the border between the City and Shoreditch. Hackney have now approved the demolition of the rear part of the building.
In the face of community opposition the Committee deferred its decision on 24.7.08. Hackney then had to include The Light in the Shoreditch Conservation Area when the Secretary of State and English Heritage intervened at OPEN Shoreditch's request. Normally they would not intervene unless it appeared that a local authority's decision was being influenced by a conflict of interest.
Photograph by Mike Wells
The Slab above Transport for London's new station at Dalston Junction . The Slab has already had over £40million of public subsidy, and tower blocks of up to 20-storeys are to be built to pay for it - but there was no affordable housing planned at all.
Hammerson's original planning application for Bishops Place included 100 family size flats and it also offered to make a contribution of £14million to "off-site" affordable housing which the Council said it would spend on The Slab development in Dalston.
Hammerson amended its scheme which came back before Hackney's Planning Committee on 4.11.09. Hackney and the GLA usually look for up to 40% family homes on major schemes like this. But now Hammerson proposed to reduce the number of family homes from 100 to 33 (14%). Hammerson said there just wasn't enough open amenity space available to suit families. but Hammerson's planning application failed to include extensive neighbouring land which it owns, although its presentation to the Planning Committee showed that land also as developed . English Heritage objected to the Bishops Place scheme, criticising its "overbearing presence" and its "harmful impact on surrounding conservation areas and listed buildings". CABE said the scale of some buildings were "manifestly unsuited to their context"
And, although in August 2006 Hammerson had written to Hackney suggesting that 112 affordable flats (30%) on the site would be possible, it now proposed just 50, with only 11 for social rent. And it also dropped its contribution to "off site" affordable housing from £14million down to £3million because of market conditions. Hackney agreed to these cuts when granting planning permission on 4.11.09. However the Secretary of State has recently ruled, in a seperate case, that temporary economic difficulties do not justify abandoning affordable housing policies on major schemes.
Hackney's grant of planning permission was supported by the City which has several joint venture agreements with Hammerson for office developments in Shoreditch
OPEN Shoreditch has complained to the Standards Board, which regulates local authorities' conduct, that Hackney had a prejudicial conflict of interest when it rushed the poorly designed scheme through. Hackney's report to its Planning Committee members highlighted that it owned the development site and that it had an option agreement to sell the site to Hammerson. But committee members were not also advised that the £millions the Council would get from the sale if granting permission was not a planning consideration and that they should not allow it to influence their decision.
In 2007 Hackney earmarked the proceeds of sale from the development site to meet the costs of the new Town Hall annex which is now under construction. Soon people will be able to go these new offices to pay their Council tax. Meanwhile there are some 12,000 homeless and overcrowded applicants on the Council's housing waiting list and Hackney has described the shortage of family homes as "most acute".