King's Cross Think Again campaign press release

Community groups make legal challenge to Camden council

Solicitors for a consortium of local groups wrote last Friday to Camden council outlining their concerns about the legality of the provisional consent for the King's Cross Central development given in March. The letter is summarised below and a pdf copy attached.

In his letter John Dunkley, of solicitors EarthRights, expresses concern about whether issues of fundamental importance were adequately considered by officers in their advice to councillors. On advice from counsel (Alex Goodman and Jonathan Powell of Atlas Chambers, and David Wolfe of Matrix), the groups are demanding that Camden reconsider its March provisional decision to grant developer Argent outline planning consents for the area behind King's Cross and St Pancras stations. There are implications for Islington Council, too, since any changes could reopen the decision they took in April on the Triangle development.

Michael Edwards, co-chair of the King's Cross Railway Lands Group, which is leading the consortium's legal challenge, said: "Our group, with other local groups in Camden and Islington, has campaigned for regeneration of the site for nearly 20 years. But the decision that was pushed through Camden in March has serious flaws, and, on the advice we now have, councillors need to reconsider the whole application."

The decision taken by Camden's Development Control meeting on 9 March is only a provisional not an actual grant of planning permission. This means that councillors can still legitimately decide to reconsider itóindeed they must do so if the decision risks being unsound. Construction cannot begin before late 2007, when the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is finished, so the scheme could be changed without undue impact on its schedule.

The letter provides an outline of the information required by the Judicial Review Pre-Action Protocol, should it be necessary for the groups to take their challenge to the courts.

As well as the King's Cross Railway Lands Group, the consortium includes the King's Cross Conservation Area Advisory Committee, Regents Network, Cally Rail Group, members of Camden Green Party and other concerned individuals.

"We've taken our campaign to community festivals and into the streets throughout the summer,' added Michael Edwards. ëLocal people have been telling us loud and clear that they want the Council to look at these plans again and agree a development which will bring real regeneration to King's Cross. And they've been giving money to help cover our legal costs."

Some key points from the letter

Affordable housing [p.3]

Camden's Revised Unitary Development Plan (RUDP), adopted in June, now carries greater weight than earlier plans, so the March decision should be revisited in the light of it. A controversial aspect of the current scheme is the amount of affordable housing, which currently falls short of the RUDP target of 50% affordable housing, with 70% of that to be social housing for rent. In addition, the advice given by officers on the actual numbers of homes in the scheme was misleading.

Heritage and conservation [p.5]

Camden has failed to discharge its duties relating to listed buildings and conservation areas. Proposed demolitions could only be justified by the regeneration benefits of the development, but the March decision appears to allow demolition without such a clear link. Argent could apparently demolish these buildings, then seek an amended permission, free of the listed buildings standing in its wayódefeating the purpose of listed building protection. Further, because designs for what will replace these buildings will not emerge till the ëreserved matters' (detailed application) stage it is impossible to assess impacts on the character and appearance of the area.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) [p.6]

The proposals are too flexible to be properly assessed under the European EIA directive. In particular, the scheme's impact on the Conservation Area cannot be properly assessed.

Flawed Environmental Statement [p.8]

The EIA Directive requires the likely significant effects of a development to be assessed so that the planning authority can make a fully informed decision. Because these plans are so flexible it is simply impossible to assess their likely effects, in breach of the EIA Directive. One example of this failure to assess likely effects is the approach to wind tunnel testing. Because the plans are so vague, this assessment will only be made when detailed designs are put forward. But case law reinforces the need for such environmental assessments to be considered before planning consent is granted.

Strategic Environmental Assessment [p.10]

The Revised Unitary Development Plan (see above) states that there should be a masterplan strategy, with planning and programming of all development, in the King's Cross Opportunity Area. If the current outline scheme is such a ëmasterplan', then it counts as a programme and should therefore have been subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Air quality [p.11]

The proposal does not meet Camden's, the Mayor's or European requirements for air quality. Camden's own Officers' Report makes it clear that air quality targets will not be metóeven without the developmentóbut fails to spell out that permitting a scheme which is likely to further damage air quality cannot possibly comply with policy or with the law.

Blue Ribbon Network [p.13]

The London Plan states that the Blue Ribbon Network (including the Regent's Canal in the King's Cross area) should prioritise uses in favour of those which require a waterside location, such as water transport, recreation and wharves. But these uses are not considered in the proposal, which does not conform to policy.

Office floorspace limits [p.13]

Camden officers justified the massive amount of office spaceómore than 400,000 square metresóby claiming the scheme needs a so-called ëcritical mass' of office space but they failed to provide any basis for their claim.

Confusion over resolutions [p.14]

There appear to be three different versions of the resolution passed by Camden in March which affects the further consideration of the applications relating to section 106 agreements.

ends


Link to EathRights letter to Camden council here, and a shorter letter to Islington council here. (Both PDF files.)

Notes

Michael Edwards, co-chair of King's Cross Railway Lands Group, is principal spokesperson for the King's Cross Think Again campaign: phone 07813 194401
If he is not available, or for other information, office@kxrlg.org.uk

The King's Cross Railway Lands Group's website www.kxrlg.org.uk has further information on the group and this campaign.

The EarthRights letter has been sent to:
Chief Executive of LB Camden
With copies to other interested parties:
Chief Executive of LB Islington
Mayor of London
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Transport for London
Developers: Argent, London and Continental Railways and Exel

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