Report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director.
The Committee considered a report of the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director relating to 100 and 108 Fetter Lane London EC4A 1ES – specifically the demolition of 100 and 108 Fetter Lane and construction of a new building for office use (Class E) and a public house comprising a basement level, ground, mezzanine and 12 upper storeys plus roof plant, creation of a new pedestrian route and pocket square at ground level, ancillary cycle parking, servicing, plant and enabling works. (Option A).
The Town Clerk introduced the report and referenced the presentation pack and two further addendums containing additional, late representations that had also been published and circulated.
Officers presented the applications (Option A and Option B / agenda Items 4 and 4a) and confirmed that the issues addressed by the late representations were addressed within the addendum report. Officers confirmed that both applications were identical in terms of massing and height with the main differences being at lower level. It was highlighted that Option A proposed to relocate the existing White Swan public house to the north eastern corner of the site whereas Option B would see this retained in its existing location with a new flexible, commercial unit proposed at the north eastern corner of the site.
Officers shared the site location plan, noting that there were two residential blocks in close proximity to the site. It was noted that the building was not listed or located in a Conservation Area, however the Chancery Lane Conservation Area was situated to the north and west. There was also a Grade II listed building immediately west of the site at 2 Greystoke Place which comprised office and residential use. Members were also shown a photograph of the existing building – an early 1950s building rising to seven storeys, made of brickwork with punched window openings and Portland stone ground floor treatment.
Officers went on to speak more about the White Swan public house, located along Fetter Lane which they described as a four-storey brick elevation and was considered to be a non-designated heritage asset. They also gave mention to Greystoke Place – a pedestrian passageway that was currently very dark and uninviting and therefore in need of improvement. The Committee were also shown images of the view along Mac’s Place and the steps from here leading to St Dunstan Garden. Officers noted that this area was gated and was currently the only area providing direct access onto Breams Building. These gates were closed at 7pm or dusk each evening.
Officers talked the Committee through existing and proposed floor plans. At ground floor Officers remarked that there was currently very little active frontage. The proposals within Option A would see the entire building demolished and replaced with a new 12 storey office building, including retail elements at ground floor. This proposal would provide an uplift of more than 7,000 square meters of high-quality, grade A, flexible office floorspace. This would see the public house relocated to the north eastern corner of the site with a new café proposed for the front of Breams Building. The reconfiguration of the ground floor would create a new north-south route, linking Greystoke Place and Mac’s Place to Breams Building. This would also incorporating a sunken garden, 3.5 meters in width and 5.5 meters in height. Officers reported that these proposals would transform the public realm around the site and create 226 square meters of public realm at ground floor.
A new office entrance on the south eastern corner would be chamfered back and enable the junction here between Fetter Lane and Breams Buildings to be opened up further. It was highlighted that there would be no stopping up or loss of highway.
Members were shown artists impressions of the new sunken garden and also of Greystoke Place where the elevation of the newly relocated public house would be pushed back by one meter in order to widen this area. Further along Greystoke Place, the height would be increased from 2.7 meters to 4.1 meters. As well as these spatial improvements, Greystoke Place would incorporate glazed feature tiles to match the public house elevations and incorporate subtle lighting to much improve this pedestrian route.
Officers reiterated that, under Option A, the public house would be demolished and replaced with a new public house of significant architectural quality. The façade would be treated with electric blue glazed brick and was considered to be an improvement over the existing public house. The new public house would offer an increase in the amount of tradeable floor space and wider floor plates at basement, ground and mezzanine levels as well as providing active frontages on both Fetter Lane and Greystoke Place. The setting back of the pub would provide an external amenity space for patrons to use. A condition was recommended here to require an Operation Management Plan and details of how the unit would be managed to minimise any noise disturbance and the dispersal of those entering and exiting the pub.
Officers went on to explain that, with regard to servicing, the situation would remain the same as it was at present, although improvements would be secured with regard to this in terms of the number of vehicles that can service the buildings per day which would be set at no more than fourteen. There would also be restrictions prohibiting deliveries during the morning, lunchtime and evening peaks. Night time servicing would also not be permitted, something that would be secured by condition.
The proposal would provide long-stay cycle parking spaces at ground floor level which would be policy compliant, with two cycle parking entrances situated off of Fetter Lane and Mac’s Place. Associated cycle parking facilities such as showers and lockers would be located at mezzanine level. Policy compliant short stay cycle parking would also be provided at ground floor level along Mac’s Place and also along Greystoke Place – all spaces would be external and accessible to all visitors and office users.
Members were then shown images of typical floor plans within the proposed new building at lower level up to level four. Here, Officers commented that the floorplates were much wider which would help provide for more flexible office workspace that could then be divided into smaller spaces if required. This would go some way towards meeting the aspirations of the London Recharge Report, shaping the future City and encouraging the provision of more adaptable office floor spaces for small to medium size businesses. Proposals for the fifth floor onwards saw the introduction of roof terraces for use by office occupiers – something that was considered key to the wellbeing of office workers, particularly post-pandemic. The Committee were shown the proposed roof plan in illustrative form showing the extensive greening and generous number of outdoor terraces.
Officers showed images of the existing and proposed north, south, east and west elevations. Officers reported that the building would take the form of four individual blocks with the fourth building being the public house elevation on Fetter Lane. The development would vary in height and form to respond to its townscape setting and local context. An illustration of the proposed south elevation showed the low-rise historic buildings and open spaces located to the west and the taller, more modern office buildings to the east. The illustration of this elevation also depicted the tallest, most prominent element of the proposed building or the ‘main block’ where the building entrance would also be located. The proposed east elevation illustration also showed the main block as well as the proposed new public house (under Option A) or new flexible commercial unit under Option B. It was reported that the main block facades would be arranged on a grid system with metal columns and thick horizontal concrete bands in an orange hue and recessed apertures and aluminium fins. Brise soleils were also proposed to mitigate against the sunlight. The main core of the building would be located against the inner face of the stairwell, allowing the staircase to be visible through the glazed façade. The proposed west elevation depicted how the proposed building would drop down in scale towards the Grade II listed Greystoke Place. Between the main block and the pavilion building there would be a north-south bay which would mediate between the two buildings in terms of height. Officers considered that the proposed development would enhance the setting of the listed building by replacing an inactive frontage. It was considered that the sunken garden would also relate well to the setting of the burial ground.
In terms of daylight and sunlight to neighbouring occupiers, the applicants had provided a full BRE assessment and, upon request, had also undertaken radiance analysis which was considered to be acceptable. Members were shown an illustration of the impact on the residential properties at 2 Greystoke Place where there were eastern windows facing the site which would experience major, adverse impacts. However, it was reported that these windows were high-level, slot windows serving living, kitchen and dining rooms but that these rooms were also served by windows on the northern and southern elevations which remained minimally affected. The impact here was therefore considered to be acceptable and in line with BRE guidelines.
With regards to sustainability, it was highlighted that the existing site would be demolished and rebuilt. At application stage, Officers asked the applicant to undertake a detailed analysis of refurbishment options to avoid demolition from a circular economy perspective. However, the existing structure was found to be extremely complicated to adapt, with the typical approaches used to secure flexible, high quality, sought after office floor spaces being quite difficult, inefficient and carbon intensive to achieve. Officers therefore felt that the proposal to demolish the existing building was acceptable. That being said, the proposed building would achieve BREEAM outstanding and the building design would respond well to climate change by incorporating passive ventilation, water saving measures, use of low carbon materials, extensive urban greening (achieving an urban greening factor of 0.35) and positively applying circular economy principles.
Officers shared images of some local views around the site – both existing and proposed. In terms of some more distant, LVMF views, it was highlighted that the proposed development, as a result of its height, would be located within the background, wider setting consultation area of the LVMF view from Greenwich Park. It would, however, be entirely obscured in this view by the existing buildings at 12 New Fetter Lane and 6 New Street Square. The development would be visible from Gabriel’s Wharf but would be located at such as distance from the Cathedral that it would preserve its townscape setting. The magnitude of change in both of these views were considered to be negligible and therefore acceptable.
Officers went on to confirm that the main differences under Option B were the retention of the public house in its existing location with a new flexible, commercial unit placed at the north eastern corner of the site. New roof terraces for office occupiers would also be introduced at lower levels allowing more light to get into the pub’s upper floors.
Officers concluded by stating that, overall the proposed development would result in a significant aesthetic enhancement to the Fetter Lane locality through the use of high quality material and would be an appropriate, sympathetic neighbour in architectural terms. Under Option A the proposal would provide over seven thousand square meters of grade A, high quality, flexible office floorspace which was ideal for small and medium sized businesses and would also meet the aspirations of the London Recharge Report. The proposals included numerous outdoor terraces for use by office occupiers which was considered to be key post-pandemic. The building would adopt excellent sustainability credentials and principles and the provision of high quality public realm at ground floor level would optimise pedestrian movements by providing new and improved public routes and a new pocket park. There would also be a new, diverse retail offer, providing more vibrant active frontages. Under Option A, the relocation of the public house would result in a better quality public house. Under Option B the public house would be retained in its existing location but, equally, the new, flexible commercial unit would be welcomed in the north eastern corner. Officers stated that it was for all of these reasons that the application was recommended for approval.
The Chair thanked Officers for their presentation and welcomed Barnaby Collins of DP9 to address the Committee on behalf of the applicant and in support of the applications. Mr Collins began by explaining that, from the outset, the key themes of the brief had been to deliver a post COVID workplace that maximised sustainability standards and catered for a wide range of future wellbeing conscious occupiers. Mr Collins explained that the applicant was fully attuned to this Committee’s requirements that circular economy and whole life carbon objectives are met and both of these were therefore embedded in the brief. It was reported that the existing building had undergone rigorous reuse testing before redevelopment was considered. It was concluded that the existing building really is at the end of its beneficial, operational and functional life, is extremely difficult to adapt and would be unsuitable for modern use. Instead, a new building would allow for design based on longevity and adaptability and would also allow for the incorporation of low carbon materials and 95% recyclability of construction and demolition waste. It would also allow for natural ventilation, a blue roof and extensive greening. The project intended to reinvent a City pub and relocate this, however, the proposals at Option B catered for the circumstances should the applicant be unable to conclude terms with the current public house – although it was noted that discussions here were progressing very positively.
Mr Collins went on to highlight that the applicant was also very sensitive to the City’s normal servicing requirements but that, in order to secure the new public space, passage and the sunken garden, this was not able to be on site. Instead, it had been agreed that on-street servicing should continue but with reduced impact, utilising consolidation and restrictions on umbers and timings of deliveries. Further, the applicant believed that the public realm benefits offered by the development were substantial, humanising the western elevation and enhancing the courts and alleys context synonymous with the locality. Finally, Mr Collins reiterated that full long and short stay cycle parking provision had been incorporated into the plans. In terms of the design overall, the applicant had enjoyed a very engaging process with Officers and endorsed their recommendation that these plans now be approved. Members were informed that thorough consultation exercises had been undertaken both pre-application and post-application but that, sadly, the applicant had been unable to secure the support of two commercial neighbours. They were, however, content that their concerns had been properly considered and addressed.
Mr Collins concluded by commending these exemplary plans that he felt would be an exciting addition to midtown, designed for a post-COVID world. He reported that the applicant intended to commence construction as soon as possible.
The Chair thanked Mr Collins for his contribution and invited any questions that Members might now have of him and the applicant team.
A Member sought further information around the servicing of the new development. He noted that the proposals intended to provide some 7,000 additional square meters of space and therefore presumably a substantially increased population occupying the building when compared with the existing situation. He questioned whether, if servicing were to be restricted to the same number of daily deliveries, it could be assumed that the vehicles making these deliveries would now be much larger and, if so, what the impact of this was likely to be on Fetter Lane. Mr Collins responded to state that he was confident that, through consolidation, fourteen deliveries per week would be more than adequate to cater for the delivery cycle.
Another Member questioned the provision of disabled parking with the report setting out that the applicant was willing to explore the provision of a blue badge space within the vicinity of the site. With regard to whole life carbon she also questioned whether there were any papers detailing the efforts of the applicant to look at reusing the existing building. Mr Colins responded to confirm that Transport for London had requested that the applicant explore the provision of a blue badge space as part of the Section 278 agreement which would follow the decision of this Committee. He confirmed that they were happy to continue to explore this with TfL should they deem it necessary to provide this. Sophie Murray of Waterman Group responded to state that it had been concluded that it would not be possible to reuse the existing building due to technical constraints. What the applicant had therefore done was to focus on reducing the whole life carbon of the new development as far as possible. The focus had primarily been on the earlier, a1-a5 emissions and where the biggest impact could be made here on the substructure and superstructure of the building. The longevity of the building had also been worked on as part of the circular economy approach. The Member came back to say that she found it difficult to understand exactly where the development fell in terms of whole life carbon impact. She noted that the papers referenced a carbon reduction shortfall but added that she wanted to know more about the whole life carbon impact of the proposed new building versus what was there currently. She questioned whether this assessment had been done. Ms Murray responded to state that no whole life carbon assessment had been carried out for the existing building given that it had been deemed unsuitable for redevelopment for a number of technical reasons. The focus had therefore been on the whole life carbon impact of the new development and how the associated, embodied carbon could be reduced as far as possible. The Member interjected to stress that the Committee were therefore not in a position to be able to compare the whole life carbon impact of things how they were at present with that of the proposed new 12 storey building. Mr Collins confirmed that the technical difficulties in reusing the existing building were addressed in the Design and Access statement but that this did not include a whole life carbon assessment of the building.
Seeing no more questions of the applicant team, the Chair suggested that the Committee now move to any questions they may have of Officers and to the general debate.
A Member spoke to recognise that this development would result in an additional 6-7000 square meters of office space under Options A and B respectively. He went on to question why office space would be approved at a time when demand for that space was falling. He noted that the report stated that ‘despite the short-term uncertainty about the pace and scale of future growth in the City following the immediate impacts of COVID-19, the longer-term, geographical, economic and social fundamentals underpinning demand remain in place’ but highlighted that there was no evidence provided to support this statement and that, to his mind, there could not be given that the evidence was to the contrary. The Member went on to question why developers were building bigger office blocks and stated that he felt that the reason for this was that there would soon be a flight to quality from older buildings to new ones. However, he was of the view that those fleeing to quality would be leaving behind space that would not be filled due to falling demand. He highlighted his concern that this would lead to a City with a few, modern, oversized blocks that were fully occupied and a lot of older, empty buildings. He stressed that it was the responsibility of this Committee to focus on the refurbishment and repurposing of existing buildings and not simply to approve larger ones.
The Member went on to state that another fundamental flaw with these applications was that the new building would cause a significant loss of light to the office building opposite, however, the Officers report dismissed this consequence on the ground that the overshadowed building was commercial not residential. The Member commented that depriving office workers of daylight throughout the working day did not sit well with the Corporation’s promotion of health and wellbeing. He added that, in his opinion, it also did not sit well with the statement in paragraph 67 that ‘floorplates in the new building had been designed to have good daylight conditions’. He argued that, if good daylight in offices was not important and why Members had been told that the loss of light to the office building opposite did not matter, the Officers report should not mention good daylight as a factor in favour of the new building. The Member felt that the applications employed the usual gimmicks such as token greening and trivial public realm features to secure approval. He went on to state that a case in point was the claimed permeability achieved by creating a new walkway at the rear of the building – an area that was already permeable. The Member stated that he could envisage a proposal for the redevelopment of this site that would be a true improvement. The Member concluded by commenting on the proposal under Option A to demolish the existing public house and ‘reimagine it’ at the corner of the new building. He underlined that the public house had interior decoration, including wood panelling that would not be found in a modern establishment and was part of London’s fast disappearing heritage. He likened this proposal to a national gallery replacing all of its pictures with copies, stressing that people wanted authenticity. Under these proposals, the reimagined public house would have nothing in common with the original except its name. He also expressed concerns that placing a public house next to the newly proposed walkway at the back of the building could lead to this are being used for urination.
Another Member stated that she was also concerned about the Corporation’s understanding of what office buildings were needed in the City going forward and the movement of workers from currently occupied buildings into newer builds. She went on to state that Chapter 14 of the NFPPF which related to meeting the challenge of climate change specifically said that the planning system should support the transition to a low carbon future and changing climate. She also highlighted that paragraph 55 of the report referred to footfall in the City and the number of people working in the City but quoted many figures from 2017 which were now four years out of date and did not factor in 18 months of a pandemic. She felt that a caveat should therefore feature here and stated that reference to growing business needs should be accompanied by a post-pandemic evidence base for this. In terms of whole life carbon impact, the Member asked if Officers could clarify/quantify what the impact of approving this application would be in carbon tonnes bearing in mind the Corporation’s net zero commitment. Finally, the Member also sought clarity as to page 93 of the report and mention here of carbon reduction shortfall and whether, in carbon terms, this was a net loss and a bad thing for sustainability.
With regard to office floorspace, the Chief Planning Officer and Development Director stated that these were clearly unprecedented times and that there was therefore a level of uncertainty. It was reported that Officers were monitoring developments in the market and demand on a weekly basis and there was increasing optimism and increasing evidence that there was a very healthy demand for additional floorspace. It was reported that Officers were also increasingly hearing about the shortfall in Grade A office floorspace in the next 3-4 years which was evidenced by a big upturn in letting activity and the extremely high workload for the Planning team in terms of pre-application discussions on future commercial floor space.
Officers went on to address the points made around sustainability and underlined that there was a comprehensive justification for not retaining the existing building within the application documentation which was summarised within paragraphs 171-175. It was reported that the structure, design and materials of the existing buildings were not likely to be suitable for a new building by way of extension for example. Any improvement of the existing structure would therefore have an enormous carbon impact, hence the decision to propose a new building that was both adaptable and flexible. In terms of whole life cycle carbon impact, Officers highlighted that there was a spreadsheet submitted with the application quantifying this and it was confirmed that the figure would comply with the GLA benchmark set out within the whole life cycle carbon assessment guidance of the London Plan. Officers were of the view that the approach proposed was acceptable but, given that the current design was based on intentions and assumptions with regard to details of materials, the detailed design stage would explore these aspects and structural solutions in greater depth with a view to further improving the overall carbon impact of the building.
The Member spoke again to ask whether, in simple terms, approving this application would increase carbon emissions in the City. She suggested that it would be helpful in future and where the figures were available to set this out as a line within the application report – would carbon emissions be increased and, if so, by how much. She felt that, at some stage, the City Corporation would need to carry out a cumulative exercise on the effect of granting planning applications on carbon emissions in the City since the introduction of a Climate Action Strategy and understood that a Freedom of Information request may already have been submitted on this very point. Officers responded to this to clarify that the existing building was currently unoccupied and that the whole life carbon impact of existing buildings was not normally assessed as it was regarded as spent carbon emissions. Replacing the building with a larger building would clearly lead to a larger whole life cycle carbon impact but it would also hopefully then introduce a building that was being used and was flexible, adaptable and futureproof.
Another Member commented that these proposals involved a doubling of office space and expressed concerns around servicing and the proposed ground floor layout. The member also echoed concerns around developers being able to pay to offset their carbon shortfall, and expressed a preference for only demolishing structures that were dangerous and not just those that were difficult to transform. The Member stated that she was pleased to see that cyclists had been catered for under these plans but argued that the location of the cycle store was in the wrong place as it could only be access through the pedestrian alleyways that were only to be marginally widened at the location of the proposed new public house. She stressed that cyclists were likely to cycle down these alleyways to reach the store and make it more hazardous for pedestrians. The Member argued that short-term cycle parking spaces were needed on the street at this location and not in the additional public realm, concealed behind the building making it harder to find and less secure. With regard to servicing, the Member stressed that this was her biggest concern – the report recognised that Policy DM 16.5 of the Local Plan required on-street loading bays for off-street servicing for deliveries and on-street loading bays only where this was not possible. It then continued to say that the applicant was required to show that servicing could be contained within the site to make the proposals compliant. However, it was suggested that, if the servicing were to be contained within the site, the new pedestrian route would not be viable due to space limitations. The Member stressed that she found it unusual that a creative developer could not find a solution to this given that this Committee had approved, in recent months, applications that incorporated lifts to move vehicles to servicing areas using very little ground space. She therefore found it more likely that a solution would lose commercial income at ground level and incur cost, whereas the provision of a pedestrian route would cost very little and could be sold as an enhancement. The Member went on to question the value of the pedestrian route stating that she could find none. She commented that, walking south down Fetter Lane towards Bream Building it would be quicker and more pleasant to continue walking along the pavement than to walk down what would be a still narrow Greystoke Place, around the building and doubling back under the new building before emerging in Breams Place Building. The Member continued by stating that having proper off-street servicing was vital for the smooth and safe running of the City – if this were not so then why was it asked for. She reported that Fetter Lane was very narrow and that the parking of large delivery vehicles for a minimum of five minutes to load or unload would cause considerable problems for drivers or cyclists using the street and issues for pedestrians trying to cross. With regard to the suggestion of consolidation, the Member assumed that this meant that vehicles were likely to be larger and having to load and unload more. Fourteen vehicles equated to a minimum of over two hours of loading time during the day and could lead to a lot of congestion. The Member therefore suggested a redesign of the ground floor to include servicing is the minimum that this Committee should request.
On servicing, Officers reported that they considered that the cap on the number of vehicles at no more than 14 and the ban on servicing during peak times and night time as a significant improvement over the existing situation on site. Officers also took the opportunity to highlight to the Committee that the routes provided would be fully accessible and step free – something that was very welcome given that existing access to St Dunstan’s Garden was stepped access. It was also reported that the route would be open from 6am-12 midnight.
Another Member spoke to state that he also felt that there was an important future debate to be had around the need for additional office space in the City going forward but accepted that this was not entirely clear at present. He went on to state that it was his belief that this Committee was obliged to implement existing policies and not work on the basis of speculation around what these may be in future years. He went on to speak specifically on the proposals for the public house and was pleased to see that the developer had sought to retain this given that this type of traditional hospitality was an important part of city life. He went on to say that he did not have any concerns around the fabric of this particular pub and was not of the view that it would lose any of its authenticity under the proposals to reimagine it.
A Member spoke in support of the application and was of the view that the City would bounce back as it always had done. He felt that this was a healthy building fit for the future.
Another Member also spoke in support of the proposals and reminded the Committee that, throughout the course of the pandemic, they had approved significant amounts of additional office space put forward by developers and investors. He echoed the views of a previous speaker in underlining that the Committee could only act in the spirit of its current planning policies. He was of the view that these proposals appeared to feature a vast improvement on the existing stock on site. The Member reported that letting levels were very significant at present and that he felt that the likelihood was that there would be a need for additional, Grade A office space in years to come. He recognised that it may well be that the space would be used differently with the continuation of hybrid working or staggered working hours but this did not necessarily translate to a need for less space. With regard to the public house, the Member stated that he was in favour of retaining heritage assets but argued that this could hardly be described as such.
A Member spoke to comment on and commend the illustrations which depicted the new staircase designed to encourage people to use this as opposed to taking a lift. He suggested that this approach should be encouraged with other developers who might also consider introducing an incentive for using the stairs going forward. Another Member commented that not all users were able to use stairs and that any move here should not be discriminatory.
Another Member spoke to suggest that, for the reasons outlined by previous speakers, he found this application more finely balanced than Officers did. On balance, he felt more inclined to support Option B but not Option A, stating that, in his opinion the fundamental problem with Option A was that it needlessly increased the detriment to the amenity of nearby offices and residents. He was of the view that the public house should be left in situ and kept as far away from other users as possible.
A Member questioned the scale of the likely increased office population that could be expected when the new building was fully occupied. He went on to focused on the pictures of the planned open space and expressed disappointment that there appeared to be plans to install railings between the existing burial ground and the new sunken garden which would seem to negate the benefit of having an enlarged space here. Next, the Member returned to the issue of servicing and the suggestion that there would be the same number of vehicles as at present. He stated that he felt that there would be implications here would around the size of vehicle making these deliveries in a very narrow street and questioned what controls would be put on the scale of vehicles parking in Fetter Lane to service the new building. Finally, the Member questioned pedestrian movement highlighting that Policy DM 16.1 mentioned a requirement to know about the impact on pedestrian movement but stressing that he could not find this information in the report. He added that, in the circumstance that there were patrons drinking outside of the public house and large vehicles parked on-street for deliveries, there could be incidents where through pedestrians would need to navigate both of these things by stepping into the middle of the road. He did not feel that, at present, there were sufficient controls or studies of this problem.
Officers reported that the new building would welcome 650-700 occupiers. On the point around the relationship between the burial ground and the route, Officers reported that they had asked the applicant to explore opportunities to integrate the two but had found that there were quite significant level differences between the two and also certain constraints and sensitivities around the burial ground. The separation of the two was therefore felt to be the most appropriate way forward. Officers went on to highlight that a Delivery Servicing Plan would be required by conditional planning obligation for the site and that they would also be able to restrict the size of vehicles using this Plan.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director reported that the papers went into quite a lot of detail in terms of pedestrian comfort levels which seemed to be acceptable. In terms of any potential issues outside of the public house, the Committee were assured that there was a conditional Operational Management Plan which would cover external drinking to ensure that there were not any conflict in this respect.
Another Member spoke to state that she felt it was the responsibility of this Committee, as delegated by the Court, to approve the kind of buildings that the business City needed and not to second guess what may or may not be needed going forward. She stressed that the industry and developers just as attune to this as Members and would no doubt take decisions about when and where it was right to build. The Chair concurred with this point and stressed that the Corporation had left this to developers to decide and reported that this had resulted in a huge amount of applications coming forward, a large number of buildings being constructed and developers approaching Officers, the Chair and Deputy Chairman amongst others with the full intention to develop buildings in the City immediately. The market therefore demonstrated full confidence in the City and ‘business as usual’ at present. He also underlined that the Corporation’s policies were pro development and reacted to the market whilst taking into consideration all relevant planning considerations, the views of objectors etc.
Another Member stressed that the Corporation could not be pro-development at any cost and certainly not to the detriment of surrounding occupiers and their amenities which was the whole purpose around having planning policies. She went on to state that she felt that this application was falling foul of current policies, and questioned what kind of City the Corporation wanted people to return to - a City where there was amenity space that could be enjoyed by all occupiers? She stated that commercial occupiers should also have the right to voice their concerns when their amenity was severely impacted. The Member added that she felt that this application ignored current policy around on-site servicing and sought to permit on-street servicing during the day in a narrow road. She went on to state that the planning application stated that there were currently 40 building occupants and that this would increase to 1,093 with the new building. She went on to question whether the pavement was adequate to cater for such increased footfall. Once again, there were policies around this, but they had been seemingly ignored. The Member went on to state that she did not feel that entrances into the office building, public house and café, constituted an ‘active frontage’, neither did she feel that these proposals offered the ‘significant public realm enhancements’ claimed. What was being proposed was an office site which would double in size and something that would have a hugely detrimental impact on neighbouring commercial properties. In terms of the Health Impact Assessment – policy stated that this should also improve the health and wellbeing of the wider community – something that was certainly not the case here with light being taken away from nearby office occupiers and their terraces. The Member continued by underlining that she also had concerns around the terrace spaces, stating that it was difficult to see what protection was proposed here from the drawings provided. The Member stressed that she did not support the moving of the public house and felt that this would lead to problems such as urination in the alleyway. In conclusion, the Member stated that she felt unable to support either of the options presented today and expressed disappointment that the applicant had not taken the opportunity to redesign a building that was clearly in need of this and seemingly ignored policies.
The Chair recognised that the Member had repeatedly referred to policies being ignored but disagreed with this, highlighting that relevant policies had been addressed in the officer reports and had been raised and debated repeatedly in this Committee. He stressed that the Committee were dealing with a combination of adopted and emerging policies, that the Plan included a wide range of policies, that there was very rarely an application that satisfied all of these, and that the Plan should be read as a whole. It was the role of this Committee to evaluate the pros and cons of each application in the context of Plan policy and other material considerations. The Member responded to state that she felt that Officers should be encouraged and supported in their negotiations with applicants to request that they adhere to policies and thereby offer better solutions for the wider community.
The Chief Planning Officer and Development Director also refuted the idea that policies had been ignored with this application. He underlined that policies were set out in great detail within the report in terms of pedestrian comfort levels and movement and on-street servicing. He reiterated that the existing building was serviced on-street and it was believed that the conditions in terms of consolidation, off-peak deliveries (morning, afternoon and evening) and the management plan improved upon the current situation on site.
With regard to the terraces, Officers reported that the mitigation of any potential suicide risk or risk of falling was foremost in the mind of Officers and a specific condition would be applied which would require further details on the balustrading and landscaping here. It was also underlined that these would be private and not public terraces.
A Member spoke in support of the applications and highlighted the need to consider applications within existing policies which were not rigid rules and required interpretation. With regard to future office requirements, the Member stated that developers surely had to have a better understanding of this than any member of this Committee and would not risk investing otherwise. With regard to the public house, the Member questioned whether a planning condition could be applied to restrict outside drinking and thereby restrict noise nuisance.
Another Member spoke to underline that the City’s office supply was not homogeneous and included a range of quality from older buildings to newer, more modern buildings. He spoke of this with positivity, stating that it offered real flexibility for the future for the City itself and for this Committee to enable future changes if so required. He went on to say that he fully supported today’s proposals which, if developed, would provide modern, good quality space and would make way for older buildings being vacated by firms moving up the chain quality wise. The older buildings were then released and became opportunities for the future, either as offices or for other uses. He added that this ongoing cycle and allowing developers to make judgements was exactly what the City should be doing.
The Committee then proceeded to vote on the recommendations before them within this report. The vote was conducted by rollcall led by the Town Clerk with those Members present and eligible to vote asked to also confirm that they had been present for and able to hear the entirety of this item.
Votes were cast as follows: IN FAVOUR – 20 Votes
OPPOSED – 6 Votes*.
There was one abstention.
(1) That planning permission be granted for the above proposal in accordance with the details set out in the attached schedule subject to:
(a) Planning obligations and other agreements being entered into under Section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 and Section 278 of the Highway Act 1980 in respect of those matters set out in the report, the decision notice not to be issued until the Section 106 obligations have been executed.
(2) That your Officers be instructed to negotiate and execute obligations in respect of those matters set out in “Planning Obligations” under Section 106 and any necessary agreements under Section 278 of the Highway Act 1980.
(3) The Mayor of London be given 14 days to decide whether or not to direct the council to refuse planning permission (under Article 5) 1(a) of the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008) .
* In accordance with Standing Order No. 38, those Members who had voted against the recommendation asked that their names be recorded in the minutes – they were Randall Anderson, Mark Bostock, Marianne Fredericks, Graeme Harrower, Natasha Lloyd-Owen, Susan Pearson.