GEORGE TURNER'S HIGH COURT RULING
Here's the final judgment of the George Turner case regarding the South bank Shell centre developments
Sad news. Today Mr Justice Collins found against me in my application to quash the planning application for yet more luxury housing on the South Bank.
But it is not all bad news. The Judge was highly critical of the inspector, and because of the way the inspector misconducted the inquiry refused to award costs against me.
The Judge also found in my favour on a number of factual disputes.
The result is a highly controversial decision. The Judge effectively says that secret evidence in the planning process on economic viability is acceptable, and that losing 4,500 square meters of public open space is an acceptable interpretation of a planning policy which says open space should not be built on unless there is a replacement of equal size provided.
There are a number of solid grounds for appeal because of the wide ranging impact a case may have on the planning process and I will be considering my options over the next few days.
Please see my statement below that I have put out. I am happy for people to forward on this statement if they think it would be of interest to others." - George Turner
"Shell Centre – prejudiced but NOT prejudiced enough.
Mr Justice Collins refuses application to quash Shell decision but is highly critical of the conduct of the planning inspector Mr John Braithwaite. Mr Justice Collins refused to make an order for costs against the claimant, George Turner, citing the clear procedural impropriety in the public inquiry.
Statement from George Turner who brought the claim:
A High Court Judge has today ruled that it is acceptable that important decisions shaping the future of our cities can be made on bad advice, based on secret evidence given by a deficient public servant presiding over an inadequate public inquiry.
In his judgement today, Mr Justice Collins expressed serious criticism of the inspector at the Shell Inquiry. There was clear procedural impropriety, he goes on to say that the inspector “seriously mismanaged his conduct” at the inquiry and this gave rise to a “real concern that he was unfair to the objectors”. He says that the way in which the inspector made his decisions was “unacceptable”.
The judge also said that the inspector was wrong to find that the demolition of a heritage asset caused it no harm, and was wrong to discount the demolition of over 4,500 square meters of public open space in his decision.
However, he did not find that the unfairness, the clear errors of fact and the procedural impropriety of the inquiry was sufficient to meet the test required in law to quash the decision. The decision still stands.
I started this case because it is my firm belief that important decisions on major sites which will shape the future our city for generations to come need to be subject to the highest levels of public scrutiny.
It is only through a fair, open, transparent and inclusive process that we will be able to achieve the development that the city desperately needs. Affordable homes, places for people to work, open spaces for us to enjoy and sustainable buildings that respect and protect our culture and heritage.
This process did not happen in this case, as it fails to happen in too many cases. It is the reason why we are seeing so many bad and damaging developments in London and across the country. Shell is just one particularly bad example.
It is now almost inevitable that out of control development opposite Parliament will lead to UNESCO putting Westminster on the list of World Heritage Sites at risk. We sell the beauty of one of our most important buildings to build more luxury development that we know will do nothing to relieve the deep housing crisis gripping our city.
More appropriate development is impossible because the developers, Canary Wharf Group, The Shell International Petroleum Company and the Qatari Royal Family, demand extortionate profits.
It seems to me that what we need is an urgent change in the law, or at least a change in this decision.
There must be a higher duty on those involved with planning our environment to behave with probity, openness and fairness if the public is to have any faith in our planning system.
I will be considering my options over the next few days as to whether to appeal this decision. London really deserves better." - George Turner
GEORGE TURNER IN THE HIGH COURT
George Turner's summary in his own words of the two days, 16 and 17 December 2014, in the High Court.
Thanks so much for those of you that came to support my case in the High Court the other day. Please see below my account of events. The judgement will now be given in late January.
As Mr Justice Collins walked into the packed court room he had before him some of the most important players in the London development industry. The CEO of Canary Wharf Group, representatives of the Qatari government, top planners from the Mayor's office and Lambeth Council. In front of them four wigged and robed barristers, solicitors, consultants, and then finally at the front David [Boardman] and me.
One of the most amazing things about a democracy is that one citizen can force all that power and money to account for their actions in front of a judge.
I stood up to make my arguments, seeking to show to the Judge why the process by which the Secretary of State had approved the planning permission was flawed.
The lack of evidence, the hostility of the Inspector, the unfairness, the apparent bias, the evidence that the surveyors had wilfully underestimated the value of the development in order to lower the amount of affordable housing on offer, the loss of public open space and the huge damage being done to some of our nation¹s most important heritage assets.
Mr Justice Collins certainly made me work and challenged several of my arguments, but he was fair and showed he was willing to listen. On arguments concerning the protection of open spaces he said that he thought I had no case, but after hearing what I had to say, said, "you have convinced me that there is more to this than I thought."
Encouragingly the Judge had clearly been persuaded on the evidence about the conduct of the Inspector. He said that it was clear to him that some of the comments made by the Inspector were entirely inappropriate and he probably needed more "training".
The Judge had clearly not been convinced of the legal merits of my argument over the heritage impact of the site, and continually batted my arguments back at me, until I showed him the picture. As soon as the page turned to reveal the full extent of the impact the development will have on the South Bank, the Judge was silent and then said "it will completely dominate the Royal Festival Hall". The Inspector had said that it was not visually intrusive and caused no harm to the setting. For the next 20 minutes the Judge just wrote down and nodded along as I rehearsed all of the arguments I made on why the Inspector¹s decision that there would be no impact on any of the heritage assets on the south of the river was clearly unsustainable. It seemed to me that he had appreciated that the decision of the Secretary of State was quite mad.
I finished just before the end of the day and the Judge said I had put the case admirably.
Day 2 was when the defendants could respond to my case. Their first line of attack was flattery. How could I have been put at any disadvantage from the behaviour of the Inspector when I had put forward such a brilliant case at the Inquiry?
They then said that the admitted unbalanced interventions of the Inspector were justified because I was being difficult and evasive.
Finally on that point, Tim Corner QC, for Shell, stood up and said that the Inspector had favoured him because he was simply better than everyone else. It was a position that did not appear to go down too well with the Judge.
On affordable housing, they argued that the information was so confidential it couldn't even be given to the person making the decision. Worryingly the Judge seemed to agree.
On matters of open space, the Judge seemed to have entirely bought my argument, that the policy does not allow a loss of open space and kept putting that proposition back to the other side.
On heritage, their argument was that what was harm was all up to the Inspector; the courts could not intervene.
I was given the last word, I picked up on some of the arguments made and attacked the Secretary of State's barrister for misrepresenting the facts of the case. I probably overstepped the mark as the Judge started to protect the barrister. I rowed back and continued to sum up, making the point that this was a site right in the centre of London that would affect millions of people. If we can not get this right it will ruin the credibility of the whole system.
Finally I made the point that on the protection of heritage assets, it was not simply up to the Inspector to judge harm, as was suggested by the defendants: there were specific policies of the London plan which deal with these views. These policies were being broken. The defence I sensed felt that this point might be fatal and started to scramble to recover ground. They began to furiously rifle though papers and jump up and down to say I was not being very clear and they wanted to add things. The Judge kept batting them away, saying I had been perfectly clear and he understood what I had said.
And then it was all over. The opposition was clearly deflated. Lambeth stormed out the room. I went to shake hands with Shell's barristers but they were openly hostile, and then stormed out the room too. The barrister from the Secretary of State was a much more pleasant fellow and we exchanged pleasantries.
We await with bated breath to see whether the judiciary will be brave enough to right this injustice in the planning system."
ONE RULE FOR THE WINDFARMS BUT QUITE ANOTHER FOR LONDON'S PEERLESS SKYLINE
Here's an article from The Observer published on the 13 December 2014 by Rowan Moore on what we are doing to London.
"Consider this. In September it emerged that the communities secretary Eric Pickles had intervened in 50 planning applications for windfarms since June in the previous year, refusing 17, passing two, with the others pending. This reflected his concern, stated in parliament, that: “Insufficient weight is being given to local environmental considerations like landscape, heritage and local amenity.”
This is the same Eric Pickles who decided not to call in plans for Elizabeth House, a tower in Waterloo whose effect on views of the Westminster World Heritage Site is likely to activate Unesco’s threat to declare this area “at risk”. Mr Justice Collins, who last March reviewed the legality of Pickles’ decision, gave it the less-than-ringing endorsement: “It may be a surprising view to take, but I am not persuaded that it quite reaches the level of irrationality.”
In other words, if someone wants to build renewable energy sources that will make a long-term contribution to the national power supply, Pickles will forget his often-stated principles of non-intervention and crawl all over the proposals. If someone wants to build towers that permanently change one of the country’s great urban places, he will usually stay out of the argument. None of which much bothers Pickles, who is probably more concerned about voters in the Tory shires. Which is not say that due scrutiny of windfarms is unimportant, but that the same standards should be applied across town and country.
Last week the London Borough of Lambeth, which Mr Justice Collins had asked to reconsider Elizabeth House, approved it again. Unesco, which had been awaiting this decision, is now likely to put Westminster on the danger list.
This week another proposal for residential and office towers in Waterloo, a cluster around the 1960s Shell Centre, will have its day in court. Unlike Elizabeth House, the Shell Centre development was subjected to and approved by a public inquiry (consistency in these cases is nonexistent), but it is being legally challenged on the basis that the handling of the inquiry was so perversely loaded in favour of the development as to be invalid.
George Turner, the local resident who is leading the legal challenge, argues that the inspector who ran the inquiry was plain wrong when he asserted that the development would cause no harm to the setting of the Palace of Westminster and wrong again when he said that no one in the inquiry had claimed that it did. Also in saying the Grade-I listed Royal Festival Hall would not be affected by seven towers immediately behind it. Also when he said that the loss of open space in the new scheme, from 7,620 to 2,825 square metres, largely deprived of sunlight, was in accordance with policy. It was a victory hard won by bodies such as the National Trust that current policy does indeed protect open space.
Turner questions the figures supplied by the developers on the project’s viability, on the basis of which they pleaded that they could afford no more than 20% of affordable housing, half of which would be in another location.
He claims that figures presented to potential investors suggested that the project would be far more profitable than planners had been told. Turner further alleges that the inspector was liberal in allowing the site’s developers to run over time and hand in key evidence late, and correspondingly tough on the objectors. A retired planning inspector has supplied a witness statement in which he says that he has “never seen an inquiry run in such a prejudicial and unfair manner”.
As is by now well known, such developments do little to meet London’s real, acute housing needs, being largely sold as investment vehicles. According to Peter Rees, former chief planning officer to the City of London and therefore not exactly Marxist-Leninist, these developments are not communities, but “stacks of safety deposit boxes”
Statement made by the Skyline Campaign to the London Borough of Hackney on November 10, 2014
'We write to oppose the redevelopment of Bishopsgate Goodsyard, as currently proposed.
The site is close to significant listed buildings and conservation areas, and the surrounding neighbourhoods are rich, diverse and vital parts of London, with distinctive grain and scale.
The scale, bulk and massing of the proposed tall buildings are unacceptable. They will have a detrimental impact on historic areas, including those some distance away. They will cause significant problems of overshadowing.
The designs of the towers are crude, showing no understanding of or sensitivity towards the character or scale of the area. The stepping down of the height of towers towards the eastern end of the site is an ineffectual attempt to reduce their detrimental impact.
The creation of a small park and other publicly accessible areas is in principle welcome, but does not justify the intrusion of the towers. The quality of place-making is also poor: the design of the individual buildings is disjointed, and fails to contribute to a cohesive whole.
We also note that the Mayor of London has supported the concept of a London-wide digital model on which impacts of projects such as this can be understood by Londoners. This proposal, with its great impact on sensitive and significant surrounding areas, clearly demonstrates the need for such a model to be implemented without delay.'
CREATE STREETS REVEALS ALTERNATIVE VISION FOR MOUNT PLEASANT WHICH PROVIDES MORE HOUSING & GREATER VALUE
New plans for Mount Pleasant could deliver 7 per cent more homes and greater value for the taxpayer by creating a beautiful new London village with strong local support as argued in this article by Create Streets published on 3 July 2014.
"Create Streets is today revealing new proposals for the Mount Pleasant site worked up with a team including Paul Murrain and Francis Terry.
The current Royal Mail plan for the site does not maximise connectivity, sustainability or value for the Royal Mail Group or (as 30 per cent shareholder) the taxpayer
The current plans are very unpopular with the local community. Only 9 per cent of comments received in the public consultation supported the scheme.
The current plans are also unpopular with both local councils as they will deliver only 12 per cent affordable housing
In response to widespread concerns that an opportunity was being wasted and working pro bono with the local community, we have developed at a very high, level an indicative alternative scheme (Mount Pleasant Circus and Fleet Valley Gardens) which we are very confident would be worth much more to Royal Mail
Mount Pleasant Circus and Fleet Valley Gardens
This is a unique site that presents a similarly unique opportunity to create a new community for London befitting the area’s history. Further work will be required working alongside the community and local councils to develop these plans fully.
The Create Streets scheme increases the Royal Mail’s proposed housing density by around 7 per cent (from 681 units to an estimated 730) and does so in a way that would generate better links to surrounding streets, homes & shops and more value. The influential public space analyst Space Syntax has examined the proposals and found that our designs create pedestrian routes that are 75 per cent more accessible than the Royal Mail’s scheme. Our scheme also puts green spaces at the heart of the community and takes account of key local features such as the presence of a primary school
The reaction to this scheme from the local community has been passionately positive. Comments made during a public meeting included; “it’s just great”; “It’s inspirational”; “wow”; “the whole of London could fight for Mount Pleasant circus”; “it’s great”; “I’m delighted to see the curves”; “it’s very British.” 100 per cent of local feedback received to date has been supportive and we will shortly be releasing the results of an opinion survey we are currently running
Taking this scheme forward would be to the benefit of the community, of London, of the Royal Mail Group and of HM Government as a 30 per cent share holder of RMG"