can one Lambeth resident hold the planning system to account?
Please read on for an update by George Turner
This is an update on where I have got to in my High Court application to quash the Secretary of State’s decision to allow the redevelopment of the Shell Centre on the South Bank.
I have now submitted a case which has been accepted and issued by the High Court of Justice. A court date has now been for mid-December. I am acting as a litigant in person (no lawyers) and bringing the case in my name.
I have also submitted my witness statement and the witness statement of Richard Tamplin in support of the case. Richard is a retired planning inspector who has taken part in over 200 hundred inquiries. He was representing the 20th Century Society at the inquiry and his evidence is damming. He has stated that in his whole career he has not seen a planning inquiry which was so prejudicial and unfair.
Whether or not I can take this case forward will all depend on whether the Court grants me protection from costs in the event I lose the case. Given the defendants (Shell, Canary Wharf Group, the Qatari Government, the Secretary of State, the Mayor of London and the London Borough of Lambeth) their legal costs will be crushing for any individual claimant (even the super rich).
This has yet to be resolved and the government has made noises that they will try to block my attempts to get costs protection (although they have yet to submit an object and the time period for doing so has passed). However, I am fairly confident I will get costs protection because this is an environmental case and The European Court of Justice ruled earlier this year that the UK was in breaking European Law by not routinely giving costs protection to people challenging environmental decisions. An EU Directive confers on every EU citizen the right to bring an environmental case to court without fear of it being “prohibitively expensive” ( I love the EU), provided that the case is not frivolous or vexatious.
I am expecting a decision on this imminently. If I am successful in getting costs protection so that my case can proceed I will need help in getting the word out, please do let me know if you can help with that.
I am enclosing a summary of my main grounds for challenge below. In essence the Secretary of State approved a building that did not provide enough affordable housing without seeing any of the evidence he needed to to make that decision. He simply trusted the word of the developer, against any reasonable objector.
The Inspector was prejudicial as demonstrated by the handling of the inquiry and both the inspector and the Secretary of State wilfully ignored policies designed to protect the historical environment and open spaces.
The importance of the case is that if it is allowed to stand we might as well all give up on planning. If the Secretary of State is unwilling to enforce so many of his own policies (the new planning policies were afterall brought in by this government) on one of the most important, high profile sites in the country, then what hope can anyone have in the planning system.
The Secretary of State’s decision means that any policy can be simply set aside on the decision of one man, without even having to see any evidence. That one man, and indeed the men that came before him are apparently happy to see centre of our great city trashed, with open spaces being built on, historic monuments being diminished by a forest of glass and steel. And for what? luxury towers filled with high value investment properties. Lots of cash for some but very little long term benefit for the people who live and work in London.
If the decision stands, along with the potential grant of planning permission to Elizabeth House in Waterloo then we are also going to say goodbye to the World Heritage Status of Westminster. Unesco has said if the UK continues to allow building of tall buildings around the palace of Westminster the significance of it will be harmed and they will put Westminster on the World Heritage in danger list. How anyone can see this as being of benefit to anyone I do not know.
My grounds for challenge are summarised below:
1. The inquiry was run in such an unfair and prejudicial manner that it caused a breach of natural justice.
In particular there were several prejudicial statements made by the inspector and he consistently intervened in a manner to benefit the applicants. This included consistently cutting off objectors for running over their time estimates, but allowing the developers to run over their time estimates by several hours, and accepting evidence from the developers several weeks late, but not accepting evidence from objectors because it was not stapled.
2. That the Secretary of State ignored evidence presented by the objectors.
In the inquiry report the inspector makes a very clear statement that I did not give to him any evidence challenging the demanded profit level of the developer. In fact several pages of evidence were given to the Inspector on this point, it is clear that he simply didn’t read it.
3. That the Secretary of State made the decision on the basis he didn’t see.
There are two parts of the inspector’s decision letter where he makes reference to documents that are not in the public domain and were unavailable to objectors during the inquiry. Under the Planning Acts the Secretary of State is only allowed to consider evidence in the public domain, therefore he either did not see the evidence or saw it illegally, either way the decision should be quashed.
4. That the inspector misinterpreted policies on open spaces.
The Inspector states in his report that the loss of open space is acceptable because it will be replaced by open spaces of better quality. He says this is allowed in planning policy. However, the National Planning Policy Framework states clearly that the any loss of open space must be replaced by an equivalent in size as well as quality.
5. That the inspector misinterpreted policies on the historic environment.
The inspector in his report comes to the conclusion that the settings of none of the listed buildings would be harmed. He says this because he does not consider the background of views to be the setting, the setting in his view is just the foreground of views. This bizarre reasoning leads him to the conclusion that the setting of the Palace of Westminster does not extend across the River Thames.
Further to this the inspector made a mistake in thinking that only the Shell Tower is locally listed, in-fact the entire Shell centre is locally listed. Substantial parts of the Shell Centre are being demolished yet the inspector says that no harm is being caused to any locally listed buildings.
6. That the developer did not provide the correct information in his planning application.
When demolishing a heritage asset the developer is obliged to provide drawings of the buildings to be demolished. This is to see if there are alternatives to demolition. they did not do this, the inspector was alerted to this, he said he didn’t care. Unfortunately for him it was his duty to care.