City Hall planners have backed development plans for Bishopsgate Goodsyard ahead of a public hearing next week at which Sadiq Khan will determine the future of the 10-acre site just north of Liverpool Street station, which has been substantially closed up and disused since it was devastated by fire in 1964.
A green light from the Mayor in line with his planners’ recommendations would be a welcome early Christmas present for the Hammerson and Ballymore joint venture which took on the site in 2002 and has already been forced back to the drawing board after its original 2014 plans met with comprehensive opposition from local people, the councils of Hackney and Tower Hamlets – whose boundary the site straddles – and City Hall itself.
That scheme for the site, seven international football pitches-worth of land at the intersection of Shoreditch, “Tech City” and the City, billed by the developers as one of the “greatest remaining opportunities in the whole of central London for major regeneration”, would have seen 1,464 homes constructed, just 15 per cent affordable, in residential towers up to 46 storeys high.
With Hackney and Tower Hamlets gearing up to reject the plans, the then Mayor Boris Johnson stepped in to take over the decision. With his planners maintaining their opposition, he used the dying days of his administration to defer a decision and ask the developers to think again.
Khan’s new administration made it clear that “a few tweaks” would not be enough. The developers took up the challenge, coming back with new plans by architects FaulknerBrowns which substantially scrapped the towers, bringing maximum heights down from 46 to 26 storeys, and reduced the number of new homes to 500, half of them affordable.
Business and retail provision was boosted, including almost 11,000 square metres of “affordable in perpetuity” workspace, and the revised plans also incorporate new community and cultural spaces, restoration of historic elements of the site – including the Grade II-listed Braithwaite Viaduct – and a new “Skyline” public park with views across the city.
And it’s now a scheme which represents “high quality architecture and allows for the optimisation of the site for residential and commercial development”, making a “significant contribution to the regeneration of the City Fringe/Tech City Opportunity Area”, City Hall planners say in their report recommending mayoral approval.
It’s winning round at least some of the original objectors too. Community and business coalition More Light More Power (MLMP), which coordinated opposition to the 2014 plans, last month offered “conditional support”, saying “there is currently more to gain by influencing key aspects of the proposals, than campaigning for outright refusal”.
Hackney Council’s planning committee also agreed this month to “support the principle of the development and its general public benefits”, while raising concerns about various elements of the scheme including the “excessive” bulk of blocks facing Shoreditch High Street, and their impact on the heritage of the area.
Tower Hamlets councillors nevertheless voted to maintain their opposition, rejecting their planners’ recommendations. Members objected to the design and massing of blocks facing Bethnal Green Road, and called for more homes and more family-sized homes in particular, and more provision for local and start-up businesses.
And the Reclaim the Goodsyard community campaign continues to argue that the scheme “remains an over-development of the area, with an excessive provision of commercial and retail space and an under-provision of affordable housing for local people”. The campaign is staging its own “people’s hearing” on Monday to marshal arguments to put to Mayor Khan.
For the developers, a spokesperson said they were looking forward to “highlighting the many benefits” of the scheme to the Mayor. “We believe our revised plans will deliver a huge range of opportunities for the local area and London long into the future,” they said.
Interestingly, while backing the scheme overall, City Hall planners also argue that concern about post-pandemic demand for office space is premature: “In the view of GLA officers, speculating on behavioural changes and amended working practices because of Covid-19 cannot amount to a material consideration to outweigh the application of adopted policy at this time.”
The mayoral hearing takes place at 2.00 pm on 3 December, with submissions from Hackney and Tower Hamlets, individual objectors and the developers. You can watch the proceedings here, and see full documentation here.
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