Goodsyard: City Hall backs ‘dinosaur’ development as campaigners rally

Sadiq Khan vs. the Goodsyard. Pic: Reclaim the Goodsyard

The Bishopsgate Goodsyard mega-development has been backed by City Hall planners ahead of a final decision by the Mayor of London this week – but campaigners believe the controversial plans can still be stopped.

In a report GLA planning officials said the proposal for a large hotel, offices, retail, up to 500 homes, a cultural centre and ‘high line-style’ public park forms a “high-quality redevelopment scheme” that would make a “significant contribution” to Shoreditch. They recommend it is approved.

City Hall’s support came as a shock to heritage campaigners and local businesses who have fought the plans. In a ‘People’s Hearing’ last night, they called on Mayor Sadiq Khan to scrap the developers’ proposals for the 11-acre site, which straddles Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Residents say the large development will ruin the area’s character and increase its rents.

Khan will make a final decision on the plans at a public hearing this Thursday, after an earlier proposal for the site was taken over by former mayor Boris Johnson in 2015.

That version of the scheme, capped by a massive 46-storey tower, was withdrawn by developers Hammerson and Ballymore a year later. They submitted new, scaled-down plans last year. But both Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils objected to the new scheme last month over heritage, design, and a lack of affordable housing.

The derelict site today. Pic: Clara Murray

The GLA report on the revised plans overturns almost all those objections. It admits that the impact of the bulky towers on neighbours’ daylight would still be “severe”, but said it is outweighed by “the undeveloped nature of the site” and the amount of housing it would provide. The design is “well-considered” and the buildings’ size “responds to the site’s constraints and sensitivities, including heritage assets.”

Planners brushed aside concerns over changing needs post-pandemic: “Speculating on behavioural changes and amended working practices because of Covid-19 cannot amount to a material consideration…at this time.”

Reclaim the Goodsyard campaigner Susanna Kow said in a statement: “We cannot believe the Mayor of London can support a tired old scheme that offers more harm than local benefits. It’s a very poor response to the housing crisis and totally irresponsible in the current economic and environmental climate.”

A spokesperson for the developers said they were “pleased” that the GLA planners supported their proposal, which “will deliver a huge range of opportunities for the local area and London.”

‘A dinosaur development’

Reclaim the Goodsyard invited guests, including architects and climate researchers, to air their concerns at a ‘People’s Hearing’ last night.

For many, the crux of the problem is that developers and City Hall see the site as the ‘City Fringe’ – an extension of the glass-and-steel skyscrapers of the financial district just streets away. But for residents, it’s part of their beloved East End.

The area’s distinctive needs, history and character should be preserved, said Anna Sereno of the 120-year-old E Pellicci café in Bethnal Green: “The community and heart of the East End are already being ripped out and this will be the final nail in the coffin.”

‘An extension of the City’ Pic: The Goodsyard

Francis Northrop of the New Economics Foundation said the Goodsyard proposal, with its chain retail, abundance of offices, and garden-less flats, is no longer relevant post-pandemic. “Things have changed so much it’s like this is from a different era – a dinosaur development.”

Dr Philipp Rode, an LSE urban planning lecturer, agreed that the plans are based on outdated and uncertain assumptions about urban life. “We are in a triple crisis of Covid, social justice and the climate emergency,” he said. “Will this be part of the ‘old way’ of London growth – or could it be a new way? We need more time to find out.”

For others, the Goodsyard raises wider questions about the London planning system. Architect Adam Khan blamed a “laissez-faire” process that encourages developers to “shoot for the moon” without consulting the community.

Owen Hatherley. Pic: Tomislav Medak

Journalist Owen Hatherley said the Goodsyard can be seen as a “test for local democracy.”

He added: “The community has been almost ostentatiously ignored… The enormous scale of this site has been opposed by both boroughs and people on the ground. So how bad does it have to be before you can actually stop it through political processes?”

Will the Mayor approve the plans? The Goodsyard hearing this Thursday will be an almost untested scenario. While GLA planners recommended refusal of the 2015 proposal, this version has won their backing after being significantly revised and scaled down. But, like Tower Hamlets, the GLA is free to overrule its planners’ recommendations. Ultimately, it could come down to the personalities involved. Jules Pipe could be a significant player: he campaigned against the earlier plans as mayor of Hackney, and now sits on City Hall’s planning team. But Khan may be loath to send plans back to the drawing board after a 10-year process. He is no stranger to pushing through plans opposed by local authorities and residents, as seen in the similarly controversial Silvertown Tunnel in Greenwich.

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