A fresh plea from a large coalition of Bloomsbury residents’ groups to improve the skyscraper scheme at Museum Street was ignominiously dismissed by developers Labtech, who instead offered the group a chance to ‘have their say’ on the gardening schemes at street level.
The large coalition of residents from the Bloomsbury Association, South Bloomsbury TRA, and Covent Garden Community Association had already held multiple meetings with the developer to try and rein in the enormous scheme on Shaftesbury Avenue, which will be visible from all throughout London if built.
Rather than attack the scheme the coalition decided to offer Labtech the chance to negotiate on matters of height and design to ensure the tower could be acceptable to the area and its residents while also retaining profitability for the developers.
But rather than engage in constructive talks the developer immediately dismissed their offers during the meeting last month, informing residents that the scheme would remain unchanged regardless of their opposition. Instead they were offered the chance to ‘have some input’ on the gardening scheme at street level.
It comes as the developer has refused to give any concrete information on the height of the scheme, giving different groups and individuals different figures from day to day, in an apparent attempt to confuse opposition.
Councillors, conservation groups, and residents’ associations have all been given different figures and information, with emails being routinely ignored and details of the scheme being withheld from interested parties.
An angry letter was circulated from the Bloomsbury Conservatives voicing opposition to overdevelopment in the Bloomsbury area, in advance of a possible wider campaign against towers in Bloomsbury.
The skyscraper scheme is likely to be submitted as a planning application in the coming weeks, where it will undoubtedly receive strident opposition from local ward councillors at the committee meeting.
SB Comment: Nonchalant Consultation Strategy Signals a New Level of Confidence in Overdevelopment
It is normal practice for developers of major schemes to carry out their own consultation activities, hiring consultants to advertise the development and gather the views of interested parties.
The responses to the scheme are compiled in a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), a formal document that accompanies the planning application once put in.
The normal complaint about these ‘consultations’ is that they are done without any real interest in heeding the responses or making any changes to the scheme.
All the same developers still undertake these activities with some earnestness and at least with the appearance of listening to the views that are raised, if only to subsequently dismiss them with nonsensical ‘PR Speak’.
But this development has broken with that trend by adopting a strategy of appearing entirely disinterested and dismissive of local views, with even the opinions of local ward councillors being treated as inconsequential.
And while Camden’s officers would certainly have been urging the developer to share full details of the scheme with interested parties, they have deliberately chosen to withhold information and distribute conflicting details on matters of height and floorspace from day to day.
But make no mistake: there’s no question of incompetence here. There will be hundreds of millions at play in a scheme like this one, with the cost of carrying out a thorough ‘token consultation’ almost entirely inconsequential.
It means that for whatever reason, Labtech and London Communications Agency have decided to adopt a strategy of nonchalance, ignorance, and disruption, with ‘no fear shown’ even to the opposition of ward councillors.
It all signals that even by developers’ standards, the proponents of this scheme are very confident that it will get passed.
Who is Driving The Scheme?
Camden’s little-known ‘Strategic Review Panel’ consists of cabinet members Georgia Gould, Adam Harrison, and Danny Beales.
It is supposed to also consist of an elected ‘Heritage Champion’, but Camden hasn’t elected a new one since the previous lost his seat.
The panel gives feedback and direction on major development proposals long in advance of them being made public knowledge.
Any overall strategic direction on matters such as height and design will likely have been given by these individuals, who also exert strategic pressure on Camden’s planners. One senior Camden councillor stated that these councillors ‘control everything in Camden’.
Both of Cllr Harrison’s and Cllr Beales’ flagship schemes: public realm and affordable housing projects respectively, are funded almost entirely by money brought in by approving schemes like this one.
It means approval of large development is absolutely essential for the delivery of strategic targets on affordable housing, pollution, and cycling.
A scheme like the Bloomsbury Skyscraper would bring in around £10M.
But questions still remain on how far the developers are playing by Camden’s rulebook or trying to forge their own path. If Camden had control over the developer’s intentions, affordable housing would likely be largely provided by the developer on site and at a 50% rate. But the developers are playing hardball, instead defaulting to Sadiq Khan’s own 35% target, although different figures have been given to different individuals.
Whoever is driving the enormity of the scheme, there is a clear degree of confidence that it will be passed regardless of opposition, with the ramifications for Bloomsbury and Central London as a whole being widespread and irreversible if indeed approved.