The housing secretary has commissioned a review into how the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) and planning policy “considers and defends heritage” in the wake of a controversial government decision last week that granted consent for the redevelopment of a Grade II-listed historic former foundry in London into a mixed-use hotel scheme.
This decision was made by the Secretary of State and signed on his behalf
However he know denies making the decision.
This article originally stated that the secretary of state made the called-in decision on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has clarified that the decision to approve the hotel proposal was made by Luke Hall [Minister of State for Local Government] ‘on behalf of the Secretary of State’ and this article has been amended accordingly
What happened? Well almost certainly he was advised by the departments lawyers that he had to hand it over to Luke Hall as neither he nor Christopher Pincher could decide it
The planning minister Christopher Pincher has mistakenly told the House of Commons that the secretary of state has already refused plans to redevelop a historic former bell foundry in east London, despite the fact that the application is still awaiting determination.
Pincher was speaking during last Thursday’s debate on probity in the planning process. The debate was triggered by the ongoing controversy surrounding housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s decision in January to grant consent for 1,500 new homes in London’s Docklands.
After the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, supported by the Greater London Authority, legally challenged the decision, the consent was quashed by the High Court last month after Jenrick agreed that it was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.
In response to a question from Scottish Nationalist Party MP Alan Brown during Thursday’s debate, Pincher referred to the timing of January’s decision and to another application for a proposed development in Tower Hamlets.
He said: “In the same week, in an application to the same authority, my right honourable friend came to a very different conclusion when he refused a planning application made by and supported by the local authority to demolish the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the one that created Big Ben and the Liberty bell.
“The local authority, the well-known tribunes of the people in Tower Hamlets, wanted to demolish it and build a luxury boutique hotel.”
The minister was referring to an application to redevelop the Grade II-listed historic former foundry into a mixed-use scheme containing new workshops/workspaces and a cafe.
The developers also sought consent to demolish an unlisted building at the rear of the foundry to allow for the construction of a hotel, a restaurant/bar, and additional workspace.
Jenrick issued a holding direction in December telling Tower Hamlets that it could not press ahead with determining the application, which the east London authority had already resolved to grant.
However the case is currently with the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). A PINS spokesman told Planning that that a decision has yet to be issued.
A spokesman for Tower Hamlets said the council had been informed in January that the decision was being called in but no date has been set for the public inquiry yet given the “current circumstances” surrounding the lockdown.
Commentators raised concerns that the minister’s mistake could raise risks that the eventual decision is seen as ‘predetermined’.
Simon Ricketts, a partner at specialist planning law firm Town Legal, said: “In these circumstances, even if there were to be some formal retraction by the minister of what he said, this would certainly raise legal issues as to whether in reality the decision had been predetermined.”
The chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee, Labour MP Clive Betts, has called for MHCLG ministers to step back from any further involvement in the ongoing determination of the application.
Describing the minister’s statement as a “complete mess”, Betts said: “This is a matter of concern.
“Hopefully, the minister simply got his facts wrong but it would be appropriate if the secretary of state indicated that after the inquiry has happened any further involvement from ministers was from a different department to make it absolutely clear that the matter has not been pre-judged.”
The MHCLG said that all queries on the application should be directed to PINS as it was handling the case.
Pincher later issued a retraction, also clarifying the Bell foundry was not to be demolished.
In seeking to cover himself over probity Jenryk just digs himself into a deeper and deeper hole.
The decision itself is erfectly in line with national policy and common law. The Bell Foundary use had ceased three years previously. Adptive re-use is national policy and has been for many years.
This government presents itself as patriotic – all this stuff about schools being required to raise the flag every morning, every minister being photographed with a Union flag in their living room, the absurdity of the monstrously tacky press room in Downing Street, covered in flags, which was abandoned as fast as it had been created by Russian contractors. But, of course, it is play-acting, a superficial veneer for their rather brutal capitalism. They are happy to use British history for their own purposes, but when a decision comes about protection and preservation of a living monument of the past, instead they support an American vulture capitalist. A hotel for passing tourists is more important than a bit of living history. You can feel that mood in the City, where so little is left of the historic fabric. Instead it is more like Hong Kong.
So embarrassed; presented with a case he couldn’t determine and his junior minister couldn’t refuse throws his junior minister, and PINS, and English Heritage under the bus. A junior minister who presumably was too cowardly to sign the letter himself and probably didn’t tell his boss that. Having stabbed everybody in the back don’t expect them to defend him when knives are out over the Planning Bill.