Historic England is betraying its own heritage. So what is it for?

A planning application which will do irreversible harm to Lincolns Inn Fields is likely to be approved by Camden Council later this month because Historic England is failing in its duty to protect historic buildings and their setting.

Camden adjourned a decision on the application, by Lincoln’s inn from last Thursday. But the mood of the meeting was to grant permission in spite of objections from Prince Charles’s Attorney General, Tory grandee Lord Deben and a long list of eminent conservationists and QCs.

The council be has been advised by its officers to allow the demolition of a listed building and its replacement with a Modernist structure and the demolition is backed by Historic England, only weeks after the “conservation watchdog” had to admit a serious error of judgement when it backed Kings College’s effort to demolish historic buildings on the Strand. In that case Kings withdrew its application Following the intervention of Communities Secretary Greg Clarke.

This time the building in question, known as the Under Treasurer’s House, is attached to the Great Hall and Library of Lincoln’s Inn, which are listed Grade II*, and therefore shares the listed status. However, although it looks Victorian, it was added in the 1960s and is not on the official register.

The replacement being proposed, on the other hand, looks like a crude 1960s design with an odd-shaped roof, not remotely in keeping with the neo-Gothic splendour of the magnificent setting.

Jonathan Crow QC, who acted for the Prince in several recent privacy cases, is himself a “Bencher” (senior member) of Lincoln’s Inn. “I am devoted to the Inn and to its legal and physical heritage”, he wrote to Camden Council. It is the responsibility of any generation to preserve and improve its inheritance for future generations.

“The Inn’s current proposals do neither. On the contrary, they would significantly diminish the existing qualities of the Inn.” It is thought highly unlikely that Crow would adopt a public stance without the tacit approval of the Prince himself.

Lord Deben, aka John Selwyn Gummer, was once in charge of the government’s conservation watchdog English Heritage (now renamed Historic England) but opposes its stance strongly. “The Victorian heritage of Lincoln’s Inn is far too valuable a legacy to be destroyed by such an act of vandalism”, he told me. “The Benchers should be celebrating their inheritance not pulling it down. I thought we had left this kind of behaviour behind in the 1960s.“ Quite.

Historic England is breaching its own rules by backing the plans by Lincoln’s Inn to demolish. In answer to my question, the watchdog admitted it did not know whether or not the building was listed and it was “a thorny legal issue”. Camden’s planning officers, on the other hand, said it was listed, yet recommended demolition anyway.

Robert McCraken QC, an experienced planning barrister, is a senior member of Lincoln’s Inn and Chair of the Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, McCraken resigned from the Inn’s Development Working Group because he refused to accept their plans. McCracken said Lincoln’s Inn was “an institution whose physical heritage is the responsibility of our generation to preserve and hand on to future generations.”

The Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn and Hardwick’s Library are among the most important buildings in the country. Any plans to demolish or alter can only be approved by the Secretary of State, Greg Clarke. But the application has not been referred to Mr Clarke although he is known to be taking an interest in it.

Conservationists hope he may yet intervene as he did on the in the Strand application and embarrass Historic England – again – for failing in their most basic duty: to protect historic buildings. Or that Historic England will come to its senses and block the demolition.

Unless it does, I will be left wondering, and not the the first time, what it is for.

A planning application which will do irreversible harm to Lincolns Inn Fields is likely to be approved by Camden Council later this month because Historic England is failing in its duty to protect historic buildings and their setting.

Camden adjourned a decision on the application, by Lincoln’s inn from last Thursday. But the mood of the meeting was to grant permission in spite of objections from Prince Charles’s Attorney General, Tory grandee Lord Deben and a long list of eminent conservationists and QCs.

The council be has been advised by its officers to allow the demolition of a listed building and its replacement with a Modernist structure and the demolition is backed by Historic England, only weeks after the “conservation watchdog” had to admit a serious error of judgement when it backed Kings College’s effort to demolish historic buildings on the Strand. In that case Kings withdrew its application Following the intervention of Communities Secretary Greg Clarke.

This time the building in question, known as the Under Treasurer’s House, is attached to the Great Hall and Library of Lincoln’s Inn, which are listed Grade II*, and therefore shares the listed status. However, although it looks Victorian, it was added in the 1960s and is not on the official register.

The replacement being proposed, on the other hand, looks like a crude 1960s design with an odd-shaped roof, not remotely in keeping with the neo-Gothic splendour of the magnificent setting.

Jonathan Crow QC, who acted for the Prince in several recent privacy cases, is himself a “Bencher” (senior member) of Lincoln’s Inn. “I am devoted to the Inn and to its legal and physical heritage”, he wrote to Camden Council. It is the responsibility of any generation to preserve and improve its inheritance for future generations.

“The Inn’s current proposals do neither. On the contrary, they would significantly diminish the existing qualities of the Inn.” It is thought highly unlikely that Crow would adopt a public stance without the tacit approval of the Prince himself.

Lord Deben, aka John Selwyn Gummer, was once in charge of the government’s conservation watchdog English Heritage (now renamed Historic England) but opposes its stance strongly. “The Victorian heritage of Lincoln’s Inn is far too valuable a legacy to be destroyed by such an act of vandalism”, he told me. “The Benchers should be celebrating their inheritance not pulling it down. I thought we had left this kind of behaviour behind in the 1960s.“ Quite.

Historic England is breaching its own rules by backing the plans by Lincoln’s Inn to demolish. In answer to my question, the watchdog admitted it did not know whether or not the building was listed and it was “a thorny legal issue”. Camden’s planning officers, on the other hand, said it was listed, yet recommended demolition anyway.

Robert McCraken QC, an experienced planning barrister, is a senior member of Lincoln’s Inn and Chair of the Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, McCraken resigned from the Inn’s Development Working Group because he refused to accept their plans. McCracken said Lincoln’s Inn was “an institution whose physical heritage is the responsibility of our generation to preserve and hand on to future generations.”

The Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn and Hardwick’s Library are among the most important buildings in the country. Any plans to demolish or alter can only be approved by the Secretary of State, Greg Clarke. But the application has not been referred to Mr Clarke although he is known to be taking an interest in it.

Conservationists hope he may yet intervene as he did on the in the Strand application and embarrass Historic England – again – for failing in their most basic duty: to protect historic buildings. Or that Historic England will come to its senses and block the demolition.

Unless it does, I will be left wondering, and not the the first time, what it is for.

Camden Council set to approve demolition of a listed building in Lincoln’s Inn. Why?

Camden Council is on 5 November set to approve a planning application in spite of objections from Prince Charles’s Attorney General, Tory grandee Lord Deben and a long list of eminent conservationists and QCs.

The council be has been advised by its officers to allow the demolition of a listed building in the capital’s famous Lincoln’s Inn and its replacement with a Modernist structure.

The demolition is backed by Historic England, only weeks after the conservation watchdog had to admit a serious error of judgement when it backed Kings College’s effort to demolish historic buildings on the Strand. Following the intervention of Communities Secretary Greg Clarke Kings College withdrew the plans.

This one is an unusual case, as the building in question, known as the Under Treasurer’s House, is attached to the Great Hall and Library of Lincoln’s Inn, which are listed Grade II*, and therefore shares the listed status. However, although it looks Victorian, it was added in the 1960s and is not on the official register.

The replacement being proposed, on the other hand, looks like a crude 1960s design with an odd-shaped roof, not in keeping with the neo-Gothic splendour of the Great Hall.

Jonathan Crow QC, who acted for the Prince in several recent privacy cases, is himself a “Bencher” (senior member) of Lincoln’s Inn. It is thought highly unlikely that he would adopt a public stance without the tacit approval of the Prince himself.

“I am devoted to the Inn and to its legal and physical heritage”, he wrote to Camden Council who are considering the application. “It is the responsibility of any generation to preserve and improve its inheritance for future generations. The Inn’s current proposals do neither. On the contrary, they would significantly diminish the existing qualities of the Inn.”

Lord Deben, aka John Selwyn Gummer, was once in charge of the government’s conservation watchdog English Heritage (now renamed Historic England) but opposes its stance strongly. “The Victorian heritage of Lincoln’s Inn is far too valuable a legacy to be destroyed by such an act of vandalism”, he told me. “The Benchers should be celebrating their inheritance not pulling it down. I thought we had left this kind of behaviour behind in the 1960s.“ Quite.

Historic England is breaching its own rules by backing the plans by Lincoln’s Inn to demolish. In answer to my question, the watchdog admitted it did not know whether or not the building was listed and it was “a thorny legal issue”. Camden’s planning officers, on the other hand, said it was listed, yet recommended demolition anyway.

Robert McCraken QC, an experienced planning barrister, is a senior member of Lincoln’s Inn and Chair of the Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, McCraken resigned from the Inn’s Development Working Group because he refused to accept their plans.

McCracken said Lincoln’s Inn was “an institution whose physical heritage is the responsibility of our generation to preserve and hand on to future generations.”

The Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn and Hardwick’s Library are among the most important buildings in the country. Any plans to demolish or alter can only be approved by the Secretary of State, Greg Clarke. But the application has not been referred to Mr Clarke although he is known to be taking an interest in it.

Conservationists hope he may yet intervene as he did on the in the Strand application and embarrass Historic England – again – for failing in their most basic duty: to protect historic buildings.

I am wondering, and not the the first time, what it is for.

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.

For Boris it’s clean air tomorrow – but not today

In August London Mayor Boris Johnson approved the development of a massive cruise ship terminal at Greenwich claiming its effect on air pollution would be minimal. A month later he admitted it in fact the effect would be substantial, but hey, let’s not worry about it.

Speaking at City Hall, the mayor said: “One of the great delusions is that river traffic is in some way more environmentally friendly than others and it simply isn’t. They use colossal diesel engines and will be unquestionably adding to NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) and other pollution”.

So why did you say the opposite when you granted planning permission a few weeks ago?

The Green Party’s Baroness Jones, London Assembly member, was in favour of scrapping the scheme altogether. She told the mayor: “The Greater London Authority has played down all the pollution fears, possibly having been misled by the developers. You have allowed the GLA to support this thing. Could you just not have just turned it down?”

Good question. So what is the answer? Well, as usual when Mr Johnson is concerned, there are several.

“Local people are broadly supportive”, he stated. Er, no.  In fact there were 117 letters of objections, hundreds of names on a petition and only three letters in favour. He also mentioned the (notional) loss of revenue and jobs, which the developer admitted would be only 80. The rest was Boris Bluster.

The actual air pollution, in an area already known for its poor air quality, would be the equivalent of 688 HGVs parked with their engines running. There is a much cleaner option: onshore electricity could be supplied to the berthed ships. But the developers insist that would not be viable (which means more expensive) and Boris accepted their word with no comparative evidence requested or supplied.

Yesterday it was revealed that Green issues will be a vital battleground in London’s mayoral race with Seven in 10 Londoners in swing boroughs saying they would support a candidate who was convincing on air pollution.  Over 70 per cent of Tory voter said air pollution and climate change were now among their biggest concerns and almost four in five in the survey of 2,000 Londoners did not think politicians are doing enough to protect the environment. They could say that again – and hopefully will. The candidates are all promising jam tomorrow, but tomorrow is still over seven months away.

VolkWagen (VW) having making headlines for weeks now because of their rigging of emissions testing equipment in millions of cars and will hopefully paying very high price for it. The cruise ship terminal developers appear to have rigged the air quality impact of their scheme more effectively and, with the mayor’s support, are getting away with it.

Britain’s Housing Associations just committed suicide: update

If David Cameron thought he’d have a serious battle on his hands in taking on housing associations – part of his relentless war against social housing – he thought wrong.

When his election manifesto promised HA tenants the Right to Buy at a discount, it was pointed out to him that under current rules this would be illegal as HA are charities and as such cannot be forced to dispose of assets. Moreover, efforts to change the legislation would be unlikely to be passed by the Commons and even less so by the Lords.

Plan B looked a bit desperate. The Communities Secretary Greg Clarke offered a “deal” whereby instead of legislation, HA would sell “voluntarily” – but still sell to any and all tenants wishing to buy. The sector was given all of FIVE DAYS to approve the deal. Miraculously, they did – just in time to allow Cameron to crow about it at the Tory conference.

HA’s have never been known to act so quickly on anything, let alone their own death sentence. For this is what this is. In his speech the PM announced that the National Housing Federation had agreed that every housing association tenant will have the right to purchase a home with a substantial discount.

The government will compensate the housing associations for the discount – from the public purse, of course – and allow them to keep the cash to reinvest in building new homes, which will be for sale. The main supporters are the sector’s fat cats, the so-called G15 associations (not at all pompous). Most of them believe won’t feel the difference. They are already more developers than social providers, paying themselves handsome salaries.

I am old enough to remembers the beginning of the Housing Association movement in the mid-70s. It was a small, intermediate idea to allow people a choice between the free market and council renting. Known as “the third housing sector”, it was mostly made up of architects, surveyors and builders. The first home they designed, with some government grant, were, er, for themselves, and the rest were rented at sub-market rents, if still well above council rents.

HAs didn’t come into their own until the demise of council building in the 1980s. They then became the fig leaf of the Thatcher, Major and Blair governments, kept handy to cover up the dearth of social housing and the failure of the private sector to make up the numbers. At the same time, “social housing” evolved into “affordable housing”, a wonderfully vague term which was never defined and hardly ever affordable.

During this period the bigger associations became increasingly like private landlords. Their behaviour was often so bad that a special Housing Ombudsman had to be appointed to protect tenants and neigbours. Not very idealistic, but salaries in the sector ballooned and several CEO now get paid twice or more Ministers’ salaries.

Today’s David Cameron needs no fig leaves. Blue in tooth and claw, he has decided to privatise the housing associations and must be delighted that they have embraced his “deal” without a fight and will now go like lambs to the slaughter.

Once the small amount of dust has settled, the “third housing sector” will be no more. Associations will battle it out with developers, and most will lose – especially as their main source of dependency, Section 106 Planning requirements for social housing, are also being abolished.

Out in the Tory world, it will be Buy or Die. Put your life savings into a shoebox-sized “Cameron starter home” or move into a real shoebox in middle o’troad, Monty Python style. Whichever you opt for, the government won’t give a fig leaf. Just ask IDS.

There is one epilog here.

I will have no regrets as HA’s cease to be. I just hope that, as they abandon the very people they were meant to look after, their featherbedded leaders who accepted the chop on their behalf quickly and quietly do not cry all the way to the bank.

Martin Wicks, a council tenant and union activist from Swindon, said: “NHF chief David Orr surely deserves a knighthood or a seat in the house of lords for his crucial contribution in facilitating the destruction of ‘social housing’.”

Fellow housing activist Phil Campbell said: “This may be good for the NHF, but not for the homeless,  people who can’t afford to buy their own home, and private tenants who get nothing.

“David Orr has protected the housing associations who pay his wages but stabbed the rest of the housing sector in the back.”

UPDATE: NHF chief David Orr earns £179,000 a year following a pay rise from £165,000. As far as I know, he does not provide ANY housing for ANYBODY, certainly not people in housing need who would be lucky to earning 1/8th of that.

Our housing associations have just committed suicide.

If David Cameron thought he’d have a serious battle on his hands in taking on housing associations – part of his relentless war against social housing – he thought wrong.

When his election manifesto promised HA tenants the Right to Buy at a discount, it was pointed out to him that under current rules this would be illegal as HA are charities and as such cannot be forced to dispose of assets. Moreover, efforts to change the legislation would be unlikely to be passed by the Commons and even less so by the Lords.

Plan B looked a bit desperate. The Communities Secretary Greg Clarke offered a “deal” whereby instead of legislation, HA would sell “voluntarily” – but still sell to any and all tenants wishing to buy. The sector was given all of FIVE DAYS to approve the deal. Miraculously, they did – just in time to allow Cameron to crow about it at the Tory conference.

HA’s have never been known to act so quickly on anything, let alone their own death sentence. For this is what this is. In his speech the PM announced that the National Housing Federation had agreed that every housing association tenant will have the right to purchase a home with a substantial discount.

The government will compensate the housing associations for the discount – from the public purse, of course – and allow them to keep the cash to reinvest in building new homes, which will be for sale. The main supporters are the sector’s fat cats, the so-called G15 associations (not at all pompous). Most of them believe won’t feel the difference. They are already more developers than social providers, paying themselves handsome salaries.

I am old enough to remembers the beginning of the Housing Association movement in the mid-70s. It was a small, intermediate idea to allow people a choice between the free market and council renting. Known as “the third housing sector”, it was mostly made up of architects, surveyors and builders. The first home they designed, with some government grant, were, er, for themselves, and the rest were rented at sub-market rents, if still well above council rents.

HAs didn’t come into their own until the demise of council building in the 1980s. They then became the fig leaf of the Thatcher, Major and Blair governments, kept handy to cover up the dearth of social housing and the failure of the private sector to make up the numbers. At the same time, “social housing” evolved into “affordable housing”, a wonderfully vague term which was never defined and hardly ever affordable.

During this period the bigger associations became increasingly like private landlords. Their behaviour was often so bad that a special Housing Ombudsman had to be appointed to protect tenants and neigbours. Not very idealistic, but salaries in the sector ballooned and several CEO now get paid twice or more Ministers’ salaries.

Today’s David Cameron needs no fig leaves. Blue in tooth and claw, he has decided to privatise the housing associations and must be delighted that they have embraced his “deal” without a fight and will now go like lambs to the slaughter.

Once the small amount of dust has settled, the “third housing sector” will be no more. Associations will battle it out with developers, and most will lose – especially as their main source of dependency, Section 106 Planning requirements for social housing, are also being abolished.

Out in the Tory world, it will be Buy or Die. Put your life savings into a shoebox-sized “Cameron starter home” or move into a real shoebox in middle o’troad, Monty Python style. Whichever you opt for, the government won’t give a fig leaf. Just ask IDS.

There is one epilog here.

I will have no regrets as HA’s cease to be. I just hope that, as they abandon the very people they were meant to look after, their featherbedded leaders who accepted the chop on their behalf quickly and quietly do not cry all the way to the bank.

Martin Wicks, a council tenant and union activist from Swindon, said: “NHF chief David Orr surely deserves a knighthood or a seat in the house of lords for his crucial contribution in facilitating the destruction of ‘social housing’.”

Fellow housing activist Phil Campbell said: “This may be good for the NHF, but not for the homeless,  people who can’t afford to buy their own home, and private tenants who get nothing.

“David Orr has protected the housing associations who pay his wages but stabbed the rest of the housing sector in the back.”