City residents blast councillor for housing blame game

View from Banner St with new tower block.

A city residents group has demanded the resignation of Common councillor and former Corporation policy chief Sir Mark Boleat after he claimed that scaling back the influence of residents in the planning system could solve London’s housing crisis.

Sir Mark made the comments as part of a new report from the Housing & Finance Institute calling for a radical overhaul of what he called “a deeply flawed” planning system that gives “far too much weight to articulate groups who make a lot of noise”.

The report proposes measures to remove “bias towards development” in the planning system that include appointing expert panels to interpret local planning policies and excluding local councillors from voting on applications.

As chair of the Institute and a member of the Common Council who sits on the City’s planning committee, Sir Mark said that elected members “are often put in a near-impossible position”.

“They have been elected and need to be re-elected and therefore are responsive to their electorates, who invariably are opposed to developments,” he said.

“The role of the planning committee is to decide whether the application is in accordance with agreed policies, not to be arbiters in a debate between developers and objectors.”

Local members would be able to speak on behalf of residents at planning meetings, but not vote on decisions among a raft of radical changes that would permit “Paris-style” higher density housing, penalise public bodies that “hoard land”, unlock the Green Belt, and rethink affordable housing targets.

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Former Corporation policy chief Mark Boleat has urged change

But the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association (GLERA) has accused Sir Mark of trying to lock local communities and their representatives out of the planning process altogether.

“He has such open contempt for local democracy and communities that we consider his views are no longer compatible with his role as a Common Councilman,” GLERA spokesperson Charles Humphries said.

“Mark has demonstrated his readiness to ignore planning policies and push through large schemes that favour developers and house builders.

“We are calling for his resignation.”

GLERA is currently fighting two neighbouring developments; a 99-unit luxury block by developer Taylor Wimpey and a 14-storey tower block of social housing units from the Corporation and Islington Council (pictured above), which the group says will turn the Grade II-listed estate into “a canyon”.

Mr Humphries said that while GLERA supports more social housing, the development planned for the former site of the Richard Cloudesley School drastically exceeds the density and height that the local policy permits. He also said Section 106 affordable housing contributions were ignored in plans for the luxury development, where the Corporation controversially approved a payment less than half the target outlined in the City Local Plan, in lieu of providing affordable housing on-site.

“If Sir Mark has so little time for the role of local councillors in standing up to development plans that bulldoze planning policies and communities then perhaps it is time he resigned from the City of London planning committee,” he said.

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A model of The Denizen development proposed for the site of Bernard Morgan House.

Emma Matthews, a resident of Bowater House, directly opposite  Taylor Wimpey’s development, said that the planning committee’s decision to approve  the application despite more than 180 objections from locals is “a perfect example of why we need to make sure these decisions are made transparently at local level”.

“We need homes for Londoners, that Londoners can afford to buy or rent. If local people had been listened to we would have affordable social housing for key workers on this site and not unnecessary luxury apartments.”

The City Corporation said they did not wish to comment on the report.