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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Councillors call on Michael Gove to decide London Wall West scheme

One letter sent to Mr Gove raised concerns including the proposal conflicting with national policies, and around the role of the City as owner, applicant and decision-maker.

City of London councillors have urged Levelling up Secretary Michael Gove to call in and decide a controversial redevelopment scheme on the edge of the Barbican estate. The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has seen evidence of emails and letters sent to Mr Gove requesting he determine the London Wall West proposal himself, having first stepped in to halt the City granting final approval last month.

London Wall West Mock up. As well as the three office blocks, a range of public realm improvements are also included in the London Wall West plans.

Under the proposals, the former Museum of London and Bastion House would be demolished and replaced with three new office buildings. The City of London is the owner of the site, the applicant, and the body which was going to decide whether it should go ahead. Hundreds of objections have been filed against the scheme, with concerns ranging from its expected carbon emissions to the impact on local heritage.

Others have queried the decision to build more office space, with the original proposal for the site to turn it into a major new concert hall being canned in early 2021 due to cost. Michael Gove has been urged to step in and use his powers to make an impartial decision on the plans, to provide what residents feel is some much needed scrutiny.

One letter, sent by Alderman Christopher Makin on behalf of all six councillors representing the local ward, claims the scheme conflicts with national policies, and raises concerns around the role of the City as owner, applicant and decision-maker.

Mr Gove’s involvement began just before the City was due to decide on the application, at a Planning Applications Sub-Committee meeting on 17 April. The Levelling Up Secretary issued an Article 31 Holding Direction the previous evening, meaning the City could consider and refuse the application but could not give it the green light, while he considered whether it should be referred to himself for determination.

The committee granted the scheme indicative approval at its meeting, since when the plans have stalled. Now, the LDRS is aware of a number of letters and emails sent to Mr Gove by councillors, requesting he call in the scheme for consideration.

One such letter was sent by members representing the local ward, Aldersgate. As well as Alderman Makin, this includes Common Councillors Anett Rideg, Deborah Oliver, Helen Fentimen, Naresh Sonpar, Steve Goodman, and Deputy Randall Anderson.

Penned by Alderman Makin, and published on X, the letter reads: “We are aware that it is government policy to be selective about calling-in planning applications. My colleagues and I are keen that these planning applications are called-in because they conflict with national policies on important matters, raising significant concerns regarding design, heritage and the environment relating to the development of a very prominent site.”

The letter adds another reason for the request is the City’s role as owner, applicant and planning authority, and that the ward councillors ‘believe that it is necessary to call-in these applications to ensure there is a full and proper consideration of the scheme’.

Alderman Makin told the LDRS: “It is our view that this application needs to be reviewed by the independent Planning Inspectorate.”

If Mr Gove does not choose to call in the case, it is understood the City’s indicative approval will enable the redevelopment to go ahead. The City of London Corporation declined to comment. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) was also approached, though had not responded at the time of publication.

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