Transport for London is planning to go back into battle with Whitehall over its plans to build 351 new homes on Cockfosters Underground station car park, the transport authority has confirmed.
The 40% affordable development, including four tower blocks of up to 14 storeys, was controversially stalled in March when the then transport secretary Grant Shapps invoked a legal power preventing the disposal of “operational” TfL land without ministerial permission.
The veto, set out in the 1999 Act which created the Greater London Authority but never previously used, was necessary because the scheme, narrowly approved in February by Enfield Council, would have cut parking at the station from 407 spaces to an “inadequate” 47, Shapps said at the time.
In a fresh salvo in the “suburb war” over the site, TfL is now looking to submit a new application to current transport secretary Mark Harper, having previously considered a legal challenge to Shapps, a spokesperson told On London.
“Cockfosters is a great scheme. It delivers valuable homes that London needs in a great location”, TfL chief customer and strategy officer Alex Williams told the TfL board last month. “It is really frustrating that it is taking so long,” he said, adding that a new application could go in “before the end of the year”.
While securing a reversal of Shapps’ decision would be a significant advance for the development, brought forward by TfL’s “build to rent” Connected Living London partnership, it also faces a further Whitehall hurdle, with Enfield’s permission on hold while levelling up secretary Michael Gove decides whether it should be “called in” and put to a public inquiry.
Gove’s original block on the scheme going ahead was notified in July during his first stint as levelling up secretary. The case remains under consideration, a spokesperson for the department told On London, with a decision on whether the application should be called in or not to be made “in due course”.
A public inquiry would see a rerun of hard-fought arguments prior to the original council decision. More than 2,800 objections were lodged against the loss of the car park along with concerns about the development’s design, height and density. It would be “out of scale and character with the surrounding area”, according to nearby Chipping Barnet MP and leading campaigner against the scheme Theresa Villiers.
Notwithstanding those objections, Enfield councillors agreed with the council’s planning officers that the scheme was in line with national and City Hall policies encouraging new housing on “under-utilised brownfield sites in highly accessible locations” as well as “active travel” alternatives to car use.
Analysis showed most drivers using the car park had “alternative forms of public transport available to them”, the officers reported and the council, falling well short of its new home targets and with 40% of the borough out of bounds as it is designated Green Belt land, had a “pressing need” for affordable housing.
Despite the dual intervention by national government in decisions by London governance bodies, when questioned in parliament last week by Villiers, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he wanted decisions about the location of new homes to be taken locally rather than by “distant bureaucrats”.
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