Camden’s decision making branded ‘feeble and bureaucratic’ by independent planner, while glaring legal holes found in officer recommendation.
Camden have been warned of the possibility of a judicial review against the demolition of two Victorian terraces on Morwell Street, following claims that that their decision-making processes were flawed and misleading, while glaring errors found in the planning officer’s report places any decision on shaky legal foundations.
Camden’s complaints department ordered planners to provide a final response to our formal complaint before the date of the planning committee meeting, giving them just 48 hours to conclude an investigation which they had so far neglected for over a month.
But the complaints department warned that their internal complaints procedure had no power to overturn a ‘council decision, taken in accordance with its policies and procedures’.
‘New Information Needed’
Camden’s Chief Planning Officer then delivered a thorough response to our complaint yesterday.
But the response stuck to the original argument made by Camden, that any change to the Morwell Street boundary would require a: ‘material change in circumstances’, in other words new information that wasn’t available in 2011 at the last review.
But this argument has long been contested, and formed the primary grounds of our appeal and complaint. One of Camden’s own senior councillors stated: ‘there is no reason whatsoever why minor amendments cannot be made to CAs through expedited processes’.
An independent planner also stated: ‘…the response is bureaucratic and feeble. During my years at Islington I easily and simply undertook minor changes to CA boundaries. It does not require a review of the whole CA and its policies. Boundary designation does not even require public consultation.’
It could mean that the entire premise of Camden’s approach to the protection of 2-3 Morwell Street is fundamentally misinformed, meaning that the LGO could find Camden at fault for not amending the CA boundary, and misinforming both ourselves and Camden’s councillors about procedure.
It could also place Camden’s recommendation to demolish the terraces on dubious legal foundations.
Now that Camden have provided their final response, the LGO can immediately begin their investigation into possible wrongdoing, having already discussed the case by telephone with us.
‘No Harm Caused to Heritage’
But the most dubious aspect of the recommendation for demolition is the claim that no ‘harm’ is done to heritage whatsoever by the planning application, despite assertions to the contrary by expert heritage groups. This could be legally challenged and overturned in a judicial review, nullifying the entire application.
‘Harm’ is a technical word in planning, meaning much the same as it does in normal speech. But when ‘harm’ is done to historic buildings and places, there are certain legal procedures that planners have to undertake in order to justify allowing that ‘harm’. Simply claiming that no ‘harm’ is done when expert groups claim the contrary can be challenged and overruled in court.
The Georgian Group, the national experts on Georgian heritage, claimed that the application would do ‘harm’ to the entire of the western range of Bedford Square, comprising about ten Grade I listed terraces, along with the listed square itself and the northern range of Bedford Square, also Grade I listed.
While the Bloomsbury Conservation Advisory also claimed that ‘harm’ would be done to the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, through loss of Victorian heritage forming part of its setting, and the loss of character on Morwell Street.
The demolition of two Victorian terraces quite evidently causes ‘harm’ to those terraces, another aspect of the area’s heritage.
The more important a ‘heritage asset’ (historic building or place) is, the stronger the argument has to be to justify ‘harm’. The Grade I listed terraces on Bedford Square are an example of some of the most important ‘heritage assets’ in the country.
But rather than do this, the planning officer erroneously stated that no ‘harm’ had been caused whatsoever. This could get Camden in trouble in a high court challenge, as expert groups have asserted to the contrary.
The planning officer asserts that there is ‘no objection’ whatsoever to the loss of the Victorian terraces, failing to identify those as a ‘heritage asset’ in themselves, and so failing to justify that ‘harm’ too.
It places the entire heritage assessment of the application on very shaky legal foundations, meaning the entire application could be nullified in a high court challenge.
Camden’s planning committee councillors have been notified of the possible grounds of judicial review if the application is approved, with a number having already discussed the problems of the application and holes in the officer’s report already.
We await to see how this plays out later today at the committee meeting.