Jenrick told permission for future London skyscrapers flouts heritage rules
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
A legal challenge is to be brought against the housing minister Robert Jenrick and London Mayor Sadiq Khan after claims that rules allowing extensive building of new skyscrapers and rebuilding of whole neighbourhoods across London are unlawful.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has been told that the new London Plan fails to meet the national rules for preserving heritage assets.
Senior barrister Marc Willers QC from Garden Court Chambers has told Kingston-upon-Thames activist Caroline Shah that grounds exist for a challenge in the courts.
The London Plan, issued by Sadiq Khan under the directions of Robert Jenrick, is a master plan for rebuilding large areas of London. Protection due to heritage assets is being removed so that the Secretary of State and the Mayor can push through dramatic development plans with no regard for the historic and natural environment or local communities.
A successful legal challenge would protect the historical buildings, monuments and green spaces that underpin London’s unique character and would restore protection to heritage assets across the capital as “irreplaceable resources”.
Ms Shah commented: “We are confident that there is a legal case against the London Plan. From the start, it has been bulldozed through by the Mayor and the public consultation has been a travesty.
“Getting the Plan amended is vital if we are to safeguard London's skyline, parks and gardens, cemeteries and neighbourhoods and to prevent inappropriately tall and dense over-development ruining our city. This Plan is sacrificing London’s heritage and everything that makes London special for the sake of development at any cost.
“Jenrick and Khan must adhere to the national rules for preserving heritage assets, which are there to maintain ordinary Londoners' daily quality of life”.
The London Plan fails, amongst other things, to set out as a primary focus the national policy objective to conserve heritage assets as an “irreplaceable resource" and to give heritage assets of “the highest significance”, such as Grade I and II listed buildings and Grade I and II registered parks and gardens, the same protection as World Heritage Sites such as The Palace of Westminster or Kew Gardens
There are nearly 2000 Grade I and Grade II listed buildings*, parks etc in London, all deserving the same protection in law as London’s three World Heritage Sites
The London Plan noticeably does not focus on the protection of heritage assets but on “the effective integration of London’s heritage in regenerative change”. The opinion from Marc Willers QC states that there are grounds for arguing that this is in contradiction to relevant national policies which offer unambiguous and more exacting protection to heritage assets with no limitations relating to regenerative change.
In addition, The London Plan makes the protection of heritage assets subsidiary to the “planning and design process”, to “architectural responses” and to “economic viability, accessibility and environmental quality and social well-being”, terms which are not present in national policy
The Plan also does not insist that "substantial harm" to designated heritage assets of the highest significance should be "wholly exceptional", including in the context of proposals for tall buildings which is important given the increasing number of high-rise towers appearing all over London
*Grade I listed buildings vary from The Wharncliffe Viaduct in Ealing, the first major structural design by Islambard Kingdom Brunel to The Gala Bingo Hall in Tooting, the first Grade I listed cinema in England, to St Helens and St Giles Church in Havering that dates from 1160. Grade II buildings include Kingston Bridge the history of which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and which, until 1720, was the only bridge between London Bridge and Staines Bridge, The Hackney Empire, built in 1901 - at which Stan Laurel, Charlie Chaplin and Julie Andrews performed, the art deco Boston Manor Tube Station on the Great West Road and the 1936 Army and Navy Public House in Stoke Newington, a Neo-Gothic building and one of only three examples of buildings nationally with vitrolite ceilings
Grade I listed parks and gardens include Richmond Park (which is also a National Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation with international protection), Syon Gardens, Brompton, City of London, Golders Green, Highgate and Kensal Green Cemeteries, and Kew Gardens, which is also a World Heritage Site
Grade II listed parks range from Coram's Fields in Camden to Valentine's Mansion and Gardens in Redbridge and Brockwell Park which lies in Herne and Tulse Hills.
Information about the threat that UNESCO believes that development at Waterloo and Vauxhall has posed to the status of The Palace of Westminster as a World Heritage Site can be found here: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/426/