Perverse planning decision indicates that Boris is demob-happy, eager to help big developers

Mayor Boris Johnson has just overturned a decision by Bluer-than-Blue Wandsworth Council and granted an application by British Land to redevelop a large building which will further increase traffic and air pollution on Putney High Street.

The decision will infuriate the local residents and annoy not only the council but also local MP and Cabinet Minister Justine Greening. She has openly challenged Boris and wrote that she doubted the Mayor’s office “has a legal right to call in this scheme”.

The plans, for 97 flats above ground and basement floor shops next door to the existing Exchange Shopping Centre, were thrown out in July in a unanimous and cross-party vote by Wandsworth’s planning committee. In September Boris agreed to a request by British Land to “call in” the decision with a view to overturning it..

In his seven and a half years as Mayor of London Boris Johnson has “called in” only 14 planning decisions from  local councils. Three of them were in September 2015. His previous decisions overruled Labour council refusals of schemes where developers offered very little  affordable housing. There were also a couple of tower blocks and a Free School.

The Mayor’s powers can only be used legally if a Borough is under-delivering on its contribution to the London Plan. Wandsworth Council Ms Greening both told Boris that Wandsworth has, in fact, over-delivered over the past five years, and is well on track to deliver ahead of schedule over the next ten years.

Ms Greening wrote: “I do not believe the Mayor’s office has a legal right to call in this scheme. Our local, accountable democracy has worked, reflecting local opinion. I strongly support Wandsworth Council’s decision to refuse permission for this development”.

Putney High Street already suffers from some of the worst air and traffic pollution in London and the residents are furious. Air in our narrow High Street is trapped in a canyon as it is runs North South, and buildings already block the prevailing westerly winds from clearing pollution away”, said objector Keith Hawkins. “Putting even bigger buildings has been shown to make the situation even worse”.

Defending his decision, Boris said ignored all the facts saying the Mayor’s role was “to fight for Londoners who need homes”.  But a council spokesman said: “We are hugely disappointed. The Mayor confirmed that Wandsworth is playing a full and pivotal role in providing the new homes London needs, so we are at a loss to understand why he felt the need to intervene here.”

Committee member Jeremy Ambache said: “I am flabbergasted. We refused the application unanimously because the development was considered too large, poorly designed and it would not fit in with the other buildings along Putney High Street.

“Mayor Johnson has not kept his pledge to the electorate that he would desist from overruling local council’s decisions about their own local areas. His decision has made it impossible for us to negotiate a better scheme with British Land.”

The borough is rife with rumours that the Mayor is demob-happy and looking for lucrative directorships when he retires to the Tory bakbenches next year, allowing him to ride roughshod over people who voted for him.

Mr Hawkins also noted that Tory Mayoral contender Zac Goldsmith spoke very differently at his Party Conference. Goldsmith said: “Many Londoners are instinctively suspicious of new development and I don’t blame them.  Too often they have no control, no say over what is built in their back yard. New developments – often ugly, out of proportion, out of keeping – can be dumped on them with no thought whatsoever as to the effect it will have on their area. There is no case for ignoring local opinion.”

How unfortunate that Boris is beyond listening – if indeed he ever did listen.

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