A planning inspector has overturned a refusal decision by Tower Hamlets Borough Council for 24 and 30-storey blocks of 319 residential units at Millharbour on the Isle of Dogs, East London. The scheme will only have a 19% affordable housing provision despite the developer’s original offer of 40%.

The appeal concerned 0.65 hectares of land which is currently occupied by a cluster of 3 and 4-storey brick buildings dating back to the late 1980s. Coincidentally, the site sits less than 100 metres west from the Smart Planning London Office!

The appellant sought permission to build two towers of 24 and 30-storeys respectively on opposite sides of the site, with a small landscaped area referred to as a ‘pocket park’ occupying the space between them. The towers would comprise 319 flats and more than 1,700 square metres of flexible non-residential floorspace.

By the time of the inquiry, the appellant was offering 16% affordable housing provision as part of the development. This figure was agreed by the council’s specialist consultants as the maximum the scheme could viably support, despite coming in at substantially below the core strategy requirement of between 35 and 50%.

However, the council sought the inclusion of a late-stage review mechanism in the appellant’s section 106 agreement. The mechanism would allow the council to review the appellant’s affordable housing contribution at different stages of the scheme’s construction to reflect changes in market conditions as time passes.

The council sought a review mechanism on the basis that the appellant had initially offered 40% affordable housing at application stage, believing that it would lead to a quicker approval, before lowering its offer when the scheme went to appeal.

While he agreed that the earlier offers of varying percentages of affordable housing provision had “muddied the waters”, inspector Paul Jackson also considered it “accepted” that developers might place a premium on avoiding the appeals process and commencing construction quickly for commercial reasons.

Noting that the scheme would necessitate the demolition of existing buildings and the loss of rental income from them, Jackson considered it unlikely that the appeal scheme would be “left unfinished for any length of time”.

The council cited “uncertainty in the property investment market” following the EU referendum result, but Jackson found no evidence to suggest that “the appetite for land and residential development on the Isle of Dogs has eased back”.

Jackson found no requirement to include a review mechanism “in straightforward policy terms”, despite acknowledging that the draft local plan seeks to make them part of the planning process in London. He ruled that the council’s case to include a review had not been “convincingly made”.

In his conclusion, Jackson noted that the towers would not conflict with the development plan’s main aim of requiring new tall buildings to “step down” from the much higher buildings at Canary Wharf. The scheme would make a “significant contribution” towards the need for housing in Tower Hamlets and London more generally, he ruled, as well as achieving a high quality of architectural design. On this basis the appeal was allowed.

17 December 2018