‘Demolish First, ask Questions Later’: Camden’s planning department recommends the demolition of two Victorian terraces before an investigation into whether they should be legally protected is concluded.
Camden’s planning department is at the centre of a continuing controversy, as it recommends the demolition of two Victorian terraces before an investigation into whether they should be legally protected is concluded.
The two Victorian terraces are visible from the world-renowned Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, and were recommended for protection by the local heritage advisory committee in October 2020.
Camden’s planners initially attempted to fob off the applicants, including three community groups, until an independent planner branded Camden’s response as ‘ludicrously bureaucratic’.
Two of Camden’s councillors then ordered planners to investigate the application, concerning 2-3 Morwell Street, behind Bedford Square.
The application, made by the advisory committee for the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, recommended the immediate amendment of the conservation area boundary to include the two terraces, claiming that the omission of the buildings was a glaring error in the decade-old appraisal.
The application document contained numerous photographs of similar buildings within the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, including many which were in worse condition. All were considered to ‘contribute positively’, a special status for buildings within a conservation area.
It also included a number of photographs of much poorer buildings, thereby demonstrating that 2-3 Morwell Street exceeded the threshold for inclusion within the conservation area.
Heads in the Sand
But inexplicably, Camden’s planners only assessed whether 2-3 Morwell Street contained well preserved Victorian shopfronts. When it was discovered they didn’t, the application was refused.
All of the other grounds for inclusion within the conservation area were not addressed.
The heritage advisory then immediately appealed with the support of local community groups, but the appeal was again not fully investigated, with Camden’s Planning Chief Danny Beales simply stating in response: ‘I agree with the planners’.
A full complaint was made to Camden’s director for planning, but no response has been received as of today.
A number of other complaints were also raised by local associations, including concerns that the renowned Bedford Square is scheduled to be used exclusively for construction traffic for a number of years. But Camden has not responded to these concerns and intends to approve all details before they can be investigated further.
Demolish First, ask Questions Later
Camden then released notification that the application for demolition will be approved bar a rebellion from the planning committee, despite the appeal and complaint process not being concluded.
It means that Camden will not be able to investigate whether they breached procedure until after the terraces have been demolished.
This has led to claims that Camden are adopting a: ‘demolish first, ask questions later’ approach to planning.
Regardless of whether Camden followed procedure or not, if the application is approved on Thursday the outcome of the complaint will be meaningless to the protection of the terraces, bar a legal challenge. It means that Camden can ensure the application is approved and have the terraces demolished, even if wrongdoing is found by their own complaints investigation or the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).
An urgent complaint has already been made to the LGO.
The leader of the opposition, Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper, has been notified of the complaint and is currently making preliminary investigations. Cllr Cooper is also on the Labour-controlled planning committee.
Legal Action the Only Remedy?
In recent years a trend has been observed towards some of Camden’s planners treating applications in a negligent and brute-force way, ignoring complaints and concerns raised by community members and local associations in favour of ‘just getting it across the line’.
Camden’s planners know that local groups do not have the funding or manpower to legally challenge every decision negligently made, and so feel comfortable in making decisions that would likely be overturned in court.
But Camden’s can’t be arsed approach to consultation has recently been comprehensively defeated by legal action from UTAG and a threat of legal action from a resident near Haverstock Hill.
With Camden’s ruling cabinet showing their fear of legal action, along with Camden’s often dubious planning procedures, perhaps it is high time that the numerous associations, residents, and businesses in Bloomsbury that have been affected by Camden’s negligence form a group with the express purpose of challenging Camden through legal action, in a similar model to that employed by UTAG.
Local businesses will be contacted near 2-3 Morwell Street to register interest.