Church site flats vision ‘scandalous’

Government ‘rode roughshod’ over Town Hall affordable housing target by approving homes

Friday, 8th July — By Anna Lamche

Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church Screenshot 2022-07-06 at 15.53.19

Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church was damaged in a fire in 2015

A MAJOR development is set to go ahead without meeting the Town Hall’s affordable housing target after a government intervention branded “scandalous” by Islington’s planning chief.

The heart of Highbury Quadrant estate will soon be altered beyond recognition as property developers begin work on Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church.

The building, which is currently dilapidated following a 2015 blaze, is now due to be replaced with a large new church and residential block.

The church partnered with property developers IDM to design a new “worship space” that will be “cross-funded” by a seven-storey block of 39 flats on the site.

The council turned down this planning application in 2021 because it did not meet its 50 per cent affordable housing target. At the time, developers argued 28 per cent affordable housing was the “maximum reasonable amount” they could deliver if the scheme was to be “viable”.

The government’s planning inspectorate got involved late last year after the developers lodged an appeal against the council’s decision.

And following an inquiry, government inspector Mike Robins recently granted permission for the redevelopment of the site to go ahead without having to meet the 50 per cent target.

In his decision, Mr Robins acknowledged the “acute need for affordable housing in Islington”, but said he was satisfied that the developers had shown 28 per cent was the “maximum reasonable amount deliverable”.

Islington’s planning chief, Councillor Diarmaid Ward, branded the decision “scandalous” at last week’s full council meeting. “It is a complete outrage,” he said. “We’ve got 14,000 households on our housing register.”

He said councillors’ inboxes were “full of emails from families… who are in desperate need of a safe, genuinely affordable home in this borough.”

“It is scandalous that the new development on Highbury Quadrant has been waved through by the planning inspectorate – acting on behalf of the secretary of state [for housing], I might add,” said Cllr Ward.

“The planning inspectorate rode roughshod over the council’s very, very necessary planning policy which says 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes on every development of 10 units or more,” he added. “Despite the council’s best efforts, the planning inspectorate – acting on behalf of the Government – did side with the developer, and that is a travesty.”

Residents who petitioned against the development in 2020 have also said they are “extremely disappointed” with the plans.

Robert Tench, a Highbury Quadrant resident who coordinated the campaign against the proposals, said the design of the church, and particularly its meeting space, was “wasteful” given its small congregation, described as “a membership of 17 members and 20 adherents” in planning documents.

“They’re in a position where they have a site worth many millions of pounds and there’s only a handful of people left in the congregation,” he said. He added that the space above the church could have been used more effectively as housing.

“You could have got additional flats in there with fewer storeys if the space had been used more efficiently,” Mr Tench said. He described neighbours as “less than enthusiastic about the quality of design”, adding that residents felt they had been overlooked during the consultation process.

“You would’ve hoped the council would have exploited these points [in 2020],” he said.

The Congregational Federation and IDM Developments London Limited said: “Overall, the proposed scheme is considered to constitute a sustainable development that complies with the relevant planning policies of the development plan and would deliver a significant number of planning benefits.”

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