Bishopsgate Goods Yard planning application

This page details the proposals by Hammerson and Ballymore to develop the Bishopsgate Goods Yard site in Shoreditch. 

Brief summary of the current situation

Both Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils were opposed to the plans submitted in 2015, believing they would have a severely detrimental effect on the character of Shoreditch and the nearby residents and businesses.  

Before they were able to formally determine the application, Boris Johnson the then Mayor of London, at the request of the developers, took over the decision and was due to consider it at a public hearing on 18 April, 2016. However, ahead of this meeting the GLA planners' report also recommended refusal, which prompted the developers to request a postponement to consider their options. The Mayor agreed. Since then there has been little public activity surrounding the application.

What happens next is not yet known. The developers could amend their scheme and re-submit it to the GLA, for the Mayor to consider afresh. The degree to which they amend their scheme could warrant further public consultations. The Mayor ultimately has the discretion to refuse the application and request the developers submit a new application to the two councils, to be considered in the standard way. The developers may decide themselves to rethink entirely their approach, and submit a whole new application to the two councils.

Watch the video: Boris see the light

The site and what's being proposed  

Bishopsgate Goods Yard is an 11 acre site bordered by Bethnal Green Road/Sclater Street to the north, Brick Lane to the east, Quaker Street to the South and Shoreditch High Street/Commercial Street to the west. About a third of it is in Hackney, with the rest in Tower Hamlets. It's largely derelict, though part of the site currently houses Boxpark and Power League football pitches.  

Developers Hammerson and Ballymore wanted to build 12 buildings across nine plots. The tallest was 177.6m (47 storeys) - that's more than five times the height of the TEA building opposite, equivalent to the Gherkin, BT Tower and Tower 42, and would make it the fourth tallest building in Canary Wharf.

The other buildings ranged from 152m (39 storeys) to 24m (7 storeys). Much of the site comprises listed railway arches, which will stay. There were 51 car-parking spaces and 3,287 cycle spaces.  

Most of the development would comprise of apartments, the cheapest of which would be studio flats. Price comparisons with similar nearby developments, carried out in 2015, would suggest these could sell for about £700,000, and one bedroom flats for more than £1 million.

There are five conservation areas and 272 listed buildings in the vicinity.

Gallery of building projections and before and after images

Why we're against the current proposals

On Thursday 10 December 2016, the planning committees of both Hackney and Tower Hamlets voted to reject the application. 

In summary, the key objections Hackney Council had to the proposals were:

  • too great a visual impact and loss of light for nearby homes, businesses and conservations areas/heritage sites
  • lack of affordable homes - only 10% was proposed, all in Tower Hamlets
  • lack appropriate business space for the local creative and tech sector. The site is supposed to be earmarked for a business/jobs-driven development
  • poor quality of architectural design
  • negative impact on air quality

Our planning committee rejected the scheme based on the 12 points below (the objections in full, with details of the various planning policies the proposals contravene, can be viewed from p86 of the planning report

1)  Though supporting the principle of high density redevelopment of this key site in Shoreditch, the proposals represent over-development as evidenced by the severity of the impacts that the proposals have upon townscape, local character and the amenity of nearby occupiers. Moreover the proposals do not provide public benefits commensurate with a development of this scale to outweigh the adverse impacts. The proposals are considered to be contrary to London Plan Policy and more generally the development principles of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard. 

2) The proposals are not an employment-led development, which they should be. The application fails to demonstrate that the maximum economically feasible amount of employment floorspace has been provided. The residential-led mix of uses is considered likely to undermine existing business function and threaten the expansion of Tech City and continued business growth in the City Fringe.  

3) The proposed offer of 10% affordable housing is extremely disappointing given the scale of the proposed development. In light of the independent review of the scheme's viability it is considered that the proposed development could provide a substantially greater amount of affordable housing. Furthermore the proposed affordable housing offer has not been adequately developed to ensure a fair and reasonable split between the administrative areas of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets.  

4) The detailed proposals for the listed Oriel Gate and associated structures result in direct and substantial harm to the designated heritage asset. It is considered that the development goals could be achieved without the harm caused. 

5) The development proposals as a whole are considered to be harmful to the setting of the listed Oriel Gate and Braithwaite Viaduct by virtue of the location, plot coverage, massing, height and design of the main buildings.  

6) The proposed development is not considered to be of excellent architectural design and the qualitative assessment of the effects of the development is consequently flawed as it relies on the assumption that the views will be improved due to the quality of the proposed architecture. It is considered that the proposed development impacts negatively on a number views of, within and across numerous nearby heritage assets where the development is obtrusively visible and is out of scale with local and historical norms characteristic of the heritage asset resulting in harm to the heritage asset.  

7) It is noted that proposed Building F would be visible between the corner turrets of the White Tower in submitted visualisations from the South Bastion of Tower Bridge. This effect on the view of the World Heritage Site is considered harmful to its setting and subject to conservation objection.  

8) The proposals for Plots F and G are not considered to represent exceptional, high quality tall buildings that respond to and reflect the significance of the site or the context of the area. The two tower approach on these plots, primarily because of the monolithic coalescence in many important local views, is considered to be flawed and cannot be overcome with architectural devices and visual distinctions between the two buildings. The proposed buildings appear monolithic and lack slender profiles and proportions, which in combination with the narrow 10 metre separation distance lends to the building's an inelegant proportionality. The large podium structure on these plots is out of keeping with the character and grain of the area and detracts from the quality of the new public spaces. As a result these buildings have an adverse impact on a number of views and heritage assets within the site and the wider setting.  

9) The height combined with the footprint and massing of the proposed buildings on Plots A and B results in an overbearing scale that is alien with the local context. The buildings by virtue of their excessive scale and massing are considered harmful to the setting of the Grade II listed Oriel gateway on site and heritage assets within the wider setting. The buildings also impact upon the quality of the new public realm within the site.  

10) Plots C, D, E are located fully within the Tower Hamlets part of the site. Nevertheless, the proposed procession of towers over these plots has a cumulative impact on townscape from Hackney.  

11) The proposals are considered to have severe adverse impact on daylight to a large number of properties within the surrounding area and a number of locations have been identified where impacts and retained levels of light are not considered acceptable.  

12) The assessment against Air Quality Neutral requirements show that the development does not meet the required standard. On this basis the development is not considered acceptable as currently proposed. Overall the Air Quality Assessment sections included in the Environmental Statement (ES) have not shown that the development is acceptable in air quality terms.  

Proposals in greater detail 

Detailed plans were submitted for plots C, F, G, L and the ground and basement levels of Plots H, I and J. Plots A, B, D, E, K and the park level of Plots H, I and J are submitted in outline only, with all matters reserved. The three main uses are: 

  • residential (C3) - 155,799 sqm / up to 1,356 units
  • business (B1) - 65,859 sqm
  • retail, financial, food (A1, 2, 3, 5) - 2,184 sqm

Several new streets and squares will be created on the site.

Housing  

Of the 1,356 residential properties, 582 are in Hackney, spread across towers on Plot F (47 storey, 322 units) and Plot G (39 storey, 260 units). They comprise mainly 1 and 2-beds. Each tower also has retail and amenity space at the base.

The 774 in Tower Hamlets are in plot C (31 and 27 storey towers, 358 units), D (25 storey) and E (17 storey), and contain a greater mix. No set unit figures for D or E.

About 10% of the residential properties are expected to be studio flats. 

Initially, the developers offered to provide 10%' affordable' housing on the Tower Hamlets side, with a cash contribution for off-site 'affordable' housing provision in Hackney. The on-site offer was upped to 15% in the amended application which they submitted to the GLA.

The 15% 'affordable' in this instance would have comprised:

  • 64% 'affordable' rent (defined as 80% market rate, as set by the GLA. No 'social' rent, which could have been set by the council, was offered)
  • 36% 'intermediate', which would have been shared ownership properties

Commercial 

Provided in plot A (14 storey office/retail), B (16 storey office/retail), H, I, J (1 storey retail, possibly community, with frontages onto London Street), K (7 storey office/retail), and L (1 storey retail). Plot K, which has the greatest amount of commercial space, is the last scheduled to be built and is on a complex development area because of train lines.  

Gallery - Floor plan, artists impression with plot labels.

Discrepancies between the viability assessments  

Viability assessments are carried out or commissioned by developers to weigh up the costs they will incur versus the income they will generate relating to the many issues of building and selling. This is then used as the basis for a range of 'for the good of the community' decisions, eg how much affordable housing/workspace can be provided, how much will be offered in financial contributions for local infrastructure/projects. This should strike a fair balance with the need for developers to make a profit. 

In the case of Bishopsgate Goods Yard, Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils jointly commissioned BNP Paribas to carry out an independent viability assessment of H&B's proposals. BNPP's findings differed significantly from the viability assessment H&B submitted. For purposes of commercial sensitivity, not all the information is allowed to be published publicly, but key points which are public include: 

  • developers say it would be justifiable to provide no affordable housing, but offer 10% out of "goodwill". BNPP found that more than 30% on site with a further £12 million towards off-site provision would be viable
  • BNPP identified 'distortion' and a 'lack of transparency' throughout the developer's assessment
  • BNPP states the developers have exaggerated their costs and downplayed profits
  • BNPP states developers could offer far more in S106 contributions than they currently are

More details on viability can be viewed from p56 of theplanning report.

The planning process going forward 

The usual practice for a cross-borough development like is for each planning authority to consider their side separately, though in consultation with each other, to achieve consistent approach. Their planning committees then vote whether to approve or reject. 

In this instance, at the request of the developer, Boris Johnson, the then Mayor of London, 'called in' the application in September 2015. This meant that he alone would have decided whether or not to give it permission, and a public hearing date was set for April 18. Ten days before the hearing, the GLA planners published their report on the application, which recommended the Mayor refuse it. Following this, the developers requested that he defer the hearing so they could consider their options. He agreed.   

What happens next is not yet known. The developers could amend their scheme and re-submit it to the GLA, for the Mayor to consider afresh. The degree to which they amend their scheme could warrant further public consultations. The Mayor also has the discretion to request the developers re-submit their application to the two councils, to be considered in the standard way. The developers may decide to rethink entirely their approach, and submit a whole new application to the two councils.

The GLA has set up a dedicatedBishopsgate Goods Yard hearing web page, which contains links to the various planning documents and information on procedure.

Why did the Mayor of London call it in? 

The two reasons given to call-in the application were: 

a) The development would have a significant impact on the implementation of the London Plan.

b) There are sound planning reasons. 

A) is true, and not disputed by Hackney or Tower Hamlets councils. However, the 'sound planning reasons' for 'b' include that the councils were taking too long and would not have reached a decision in a reasonable time, something both councils strongly refute. 

The councils have various issues with this accusation, but the key one is that both their planning committees would have determined the application before the end of 2015, which is sooner than the GLA will, and this was as soon as practical after an amended application was submitted by the developers in July 2015.  

The developer's planning consultant DP9 also suggested to the GLA that the councils were not forthcoming in proving feedback on its proposals, which led to delays. Both planning departments strongly refute this and say they have taken a proactive approach throughout, offering feedback and officer time for meetings on key issues. They argue DP9's repeated failure to address issues raised by the boroughs, their independent consultants and independent design review panels, both before the first application and the amended second one, has made consideration of the proposals more challenging and time-consuming.  

A detailed letter, signed by senior planning officers at both councils, rebutting DP9's accusations and arguing why decision should not be called in was sent to the Mayor of London on September 22. The following day he wrote to the councils saying he had decided to call it in.  

Why did the GLA recommend refusal?

The planners state "the potential public benefits are to be delivered in a way that would result in unacceptable and avoidable significant negative impacts", and list six points why "this application is not acceptable in planning policy terms":

1) The proposed development does not accord with the development plan in terms of neighbourhood amenity impacts, specifically daylight/sunlight. This in itself is considered serious and furthermore indicates that the density, height, massing and layout of the scheme are not appropriate for this site as these factors result in the significant building mass along Sclater Street that drives the majority of the unacceptable impacts.

The proposals are contrary to London Plan Policy 7.6 'Architecture', Tower Hamlets Core Strategy Policy SP10 'Creating distinct and durable places', Tower Hamlets MDD Policy DM25 'Amenity', Hackney DMLP Policy DM2 and Design Principle BG14 of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard Interim Planning Guidance. The page 7 development is not, therefore, consistent with the development plan in daylight/ sunlight terms and the level of impact cannot be justified when considered within the planning balance.

2) There remains a design concern regarding the proposed Phoenix Street and the potential for the space to become a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

3) Negative heritage impacts:

  • substantial harm to the Grade II Listed Oriel gateway (by demolition of the listed wall)
  • minor harm to the setting of the Tower of London
  • minor harm to the setting of Redchurch Street Conservation Area
  • minor harm to the setting of Brick Lane & Fornier Street Conservation Areas
  • minor harm to the setting of Elder Street Conservation Area
  • minor harm to the setting of the Grade I listed Geffrye Museum

4) The demolition of the wall to the south of the Oriel and the substantial harm that would be caused by the demolition of the wall, has not been adequately justified and remains unacceptable. In addition, the demolition of a listed asset is not covered by the current listed building consent application.

5) The cumulative harm to heritage assets, the unacceptable daylight/sunlight impact, density, height, massing and layout of the scheme are considered to significantly outweigh the potential public benefits of the scheme.

6) The proposals seek to deliver the public benefit outlined in this report in a way that causes unacceptable and avoidable harm and it is not accepted that these impacts are an inevitable consequence of developing the site. By seeking to optimise, rather than maximise development, it is considered that a revised scheme could reduce the impacts to an acceptable level and still deliver significant public benefits. In order to address the daylight/ sunlight impacts identified in this report, such a scheme would have to have significantly less height and massing along the north-western edge of the site in particular. This, in turn, would be likely to have the additional benefit of lessening many of the heritage impacts identified.

The application timeline 

  • current - awaiting developments
  • 18 April 2016 - Public hearing planned, but postponed at request of developers
  • 8 April 2016 - GLA planners publish report for public hearing. It recommends refusal
  • 21 January 2016 - the developers launched a new 21 day public consultation
  • 10 December 2015 - Councils hold separate planning committee hearings. Both vote for refusal
  • 23 September 2015 - Mayor of London writes to councils saying he has decided to call it in
  • 22 September 2015 - Councils jointly write to the GLA explaining why they don't believe a call-in is justified
  • 15 September 2015 - Developers request the Mayor of London 'call in' the application
  • July 2015 - Councils begin consideration of amended application
  • July 2015 - Developers submit an amended application, which includes a range of alterations to existing buildings and one new building, and an amended viability assessment
  • December 2014 - Councils, following consultation and consideration, provide comments to the developers
  • October 2014 - Initial application submitted to Hackney and Tower Hamlets

What are the alternatives? 

Planning policy earmarks Bishopsgate Goods Yard for a commercially-led development, though housing is also a priority for the site and there is scope within the guidelines for a wide-range of creative approaches. 

In 2014 Hackney Council commissioned architects Gensler to explore the potential for development. Its remit was to make the most of commercial space and Tech City's aspiration for growth, while maintaining the area's identity/character and providing housing suitable for Hackney and Tower Hamlets. 

It came up with three options and a range of scenarios. Its final proposal was for an all commercial development on the Hackney side, with housing and commercial in Tower Hamlets. Its tallest buildings were on a par with neighbouring properties. 

It hasn't undergone the rigour of full planning / viability assessments, but is grounded in what it believes are realistic planning and economic considerations, and included various financial modelling.  

This is just one alternative approach, but there are many more.

Gallery of Gensler proposals

Page updated: 07/06/2017 10:16:24