In the latest salvo in London’s “suburb wars” transport secretary Grant Shapps has controversially stepped in to block Transport for London plans for 351 new homes at Cockfosters Underground station in Enfield because the development would cut parking at the station from 370 spaces to 47.
The 40 per cent affordable home scheme, including four tower blocks up to 14 storeys, was approved by Enfield’s planning committee last month with the casting vote of committee chair Sinan Boztas, in the face of concerted opposition from residents, Conservatives including Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers, and local Labour MP Bambos Charalambous.
Shapps confirmed in a letter to Villiers that he had used veto powers under the GLA Act 1999, the legislation which created devolved government in the capital, “as I am concerned that the parking provision at the station would be inadequate following the development proposed by TfL”. TfL says it is “not aware of any previous instances where the Secretary of State has used this power.”
Villiers, who had argued that the extensive car park around the Grade II-listed station at the end of the Piccadilly Line performed an “important park-and-ride function, helping people get on to the public transport network”, welcomed the decision while pledging to “keep fighting” to save suburban station car parks.
The development was the fifth scheme brought forward by TfL’s Connected Living London (CLL) partnership with build-to-rent specialists Grainger, established in 2019 with a focus on “brownfield” sites by Tube stations including car parks.
Enfield’s planning officers had recommended it for approval, arguing that it was in line with national and City Hall policies encouraging new housing on “under-utilised brownfield sites in highly accessible locations” and active travel alternatives to cars.
Officers had also warned planning committee members that the council was subject to the “tilted balance” presumption – set out in the National Planning Policy framework – in favour of development which applies where local plans are out of date and councils are falling well short of its new homes targets while under continuing pressure because 40 per cent of the borough is Green Belt land.
The existing car park “incentivises unsustainable travel behaviours (private car use)”, officers added, citing analysis showing that most drivers using the car park had “alternative forms of public transport available to them”.
Shapps’ surprise intervention does not rest on planning powers but on a provision of the 1999 Act preventing TfL selling “operational” transport land, either freehold or under a lease of mote than 50 years, without the consent of the Secretary of State for Transport.
The joint venture structure of the TfL partnership with Grainger means it falls foul of the provision, though CLL schemes already going forward without intervention include 460 new rental homes in Southall, 139 in north Lambeth and 479 above and around the new Nine Elms Tube station, 40 per cent of them affordable.
A further scheme for 162 homes on the Arnos Grove station car park, currently subject to appeal after being rejected by Enfield last year but expected to be approved after the council withdrew its objections, could also be subject to ministerial veto.
The ministerial decision comes in the context of continuing conflict over suburban development ahead of the local elections in May, as councils in outer London grapple with housing shortages, challenging new homes targets, Green Belt restraints and active travel imperatives.
While the Cockfosters scheme attracted 2,852 objections, it also drew support from transport campaigners in the borough and from the Enfield Society, founded in 1936, which told the council that the station car park was a “poor use of space” and residential development on brownfield sites was appropriate to “help meet borough housing targets”.
National affordable homes campaign Priced Out attacked the minister’s decision, with director Anya Martin tweeting: “So after how many years of consultation and planning, TfL finally secured permission to build homes (of which 40% affordable), public realm improvements. And now Grant Shapps has blocked it to “save” a CAR PARK. You could not make it up”.
A TfL spokesperson said: “We can confirm that on 25 February we received the decision from the Secretary of State. We are now taking the necessary time to understand and consider the implications and available next steps that result from the decision.”
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