Saturday 10 August 2019

Breaking News: Benjy's Towers Developer Loses Appeal

An artist's impression of the proposed tall development on the Benjy's site

The long-running saga of the redevelopment of the 562 Mile End Road and 1a, 1b and 1c Burdett Road site (aka Benjy's Towers) reached a milestone today as the Planning Inspectorate dismissed an appeal by BestZone Ltd.

Over four or so years, the developers have tried it on with a succession of schemes of varying heights: 43-, 25-, 15-, 13-,  and lastly 12-storey. With each planning application, or piece of pre-planning advice, the building has been reduced in height as if Tower Hamlets were swinging an imaginary hammer.

Graphic illustrating how the proposed development will dwarf the Benjy's area
Not to scale
To recap, the development "proposed the demolition of existing buildings and construction of a mixed-use development comprising part 3-storey, part 8-storey and part 12-storey, 46 residential units, up to 832sqm (GIA) flexible commercial floorspace (A1, A2, B1 and sui generis nightclub) , landscaping, public realm improvements, access and servicing (including 1 disabled car parking space; 92 cycle spaces; and associated highway works) and other associated infrastructure".

The main issues considered by the planning inspectorate were:
  1. whether the location would be appropriate for a tall building;
  2. the effect on the character and appearance of the area;
  3. the impact on heritage assets; and
  4. whether measures to protect the living conditions of future residents from noise and disturbance could be achieved so that there would not be conflict that would harm the long-term provision of a night club that serves the LGBT+1community.
Julia Gregory, the planning inspector, has indicated the proposed development's height is too tall for Mile End which is defined as a Neighbourhood Centre in planning terms; that it would be of very limited waymarking use; that the height, scale and massing of the building would harm the character and appearance of the Tredegar Square and Clinton Road Conservation Areas; and that proposals would harm the long-term provision of [the Backstreet] night club that serves the LGBT+ community.

The inspector concluded:
"Having considered the balance carefully, I conclude that the public benefits that I have identified do not outweigh the great weight I have attached to the less than substantial harm to designated heritage assets. Furthermore, I am not satisfied that the future of the club is protected."
The appeal decision is well worth a read, although some of the abbreviations used (UU anyone?) aren't self-explanatory. Oddly the only one deemed worthy of explanation is "LGBT+". (this reminds me of my late dad getting LGBT confused with a BLT sandwich - he thought the "G" was Gherkin).

Although the appeal has been dismissed, it is still disappointing to see LBTH did not defend two of the reasons for which it rejected the scheme:

  1. The adequacy of the loading bay in Burdett Road
  2. Air quality.
The proposed TfL Hackney to Isle of Dogs Cycle route eliminates the loading bay completely (see image below) and so the development looks to have no space for residents or the three retail units to receive deliveries. Consequently, any new schemes put forward will have to allow for this significant accessibility restriction.

TfL plan for the redevelopment of the Mile End Junction
The proposed TfL junction redesign sees the loading bay site removed (labelled "pavement widened")

Reactions to the Decision

David Berridge who led MEOTRA's campaign against the development commented: 

"This is a welcome decision.
At least the Conservation Officer at Tower Hamlets strenuously objected to the tower, whereas other officers at TH & GLA were in favour in pre-application discussions.
The negative Impact on Heritage Assets i.e. the 3 Conservation Areas was probably crucial in the Inspector’s thoughts.
Other points also contributed, such as the Inspector not being persuaded that adequate provision for re-siting of the Backstreet Club was made.
In conclusion, a significant change will need to be made to the project before another application is made, not least in persuading TfL that the developer can build so close the the Underground line."

Nigel Whitfield who campaigned to protect TheBackstreet as an LGBT space tweeted:

"The case made for @BackstLondon by the council officer Ms Gawne was brilliant; I have told her so, and not so many years ago, the idea of a public servant making such a case for an LGBT venue would have been unheard of. Much praise to Tower Hamlets!"

John White, Chairman of the Friends of Mile End Park whose parents first dated at La Boheme back in the day commented:

"The greed of the developers shouldn't come as a surprise I suppose, but now instead of  the 43-storey skyscraper they at one point hoped for, all they have is pie in the sky."


Since this article was written I have been informed the council only pick some of the reasons to defend to limit any costs that may be awarded. If they lose on any items they have to pay the appellant's costs.

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