Hackney Council’s proposal for Britannia Leisure Centre has potentially been left undermined after the emergence of a “high-powered” objection letter from one of its own partners which ruthlessly and systematically dissects it.
The Town Hall has forged ahead with plans for a new leisure centre, along with a school, 400 luxury flats and 81 affordable homes, in the face of well-organised local opposition.
But the pendulum appears to have swung back in favour of Save Britannia Leisure Centre (SBLC) campaigners after the publication of a 12-page letter which details a slew of objections to the planning application submitted by the Town Hall in March.
The document is written by planning specialists on behalf of major developer Anthology, which owns the Hoxton Press building near the leisure centre and has been “working closely” with the council on the Colville Estate regeneration.
Among a number of hard-hitting claims is Anthology’s belief that the Britannia plans “do not reflect value for money for residents”, that crucial paperwork is missing and therefore avoids scrutiny, and that parts of the site will be “over-developed” to “compensate for a lack of viability”.
It also criticises the fact that less than 20 per cent of the new housing is affordable, and says this breaches Hackney’s own planning rules.
The letter concludes by calling on the council, which is both the applicant and the planning authority, to either “refuse the application” or invalidate it in order to make changes.
Anthology confirmed to the Citizen that the document is genuine.
A spokesperson for Hackney Council said: “All comments on the Britannia site application, including those from Anthology, have been carefully reviewed by the council as part of the planning process.”
They added that a further statutory consultation will be carried out, at which time the missing documents, including a full viability assessment, will be released.
SBLC campaigner Pat Turnbull said: “Anthology’s objection is a high-powered document, and while we may come at the Britannia Development Plan from a different angle, there are a number of points on which we strongly agree with them.
“Anthology’s main objection is that the scheme is not viable, and should be refused. They assert that to try to compensate for the lack of viability, the council is guilty of over-development – the objection refers to excessive height, bulk and density. Anthology say this is true of the western part of the development next to their towers; we say it is true of the entire scheme, particularly the towers to be built on the Britannia site itself, which contain the 400 homes for market sale. Anthology are highly critical of the council’s failure to make public the four appendices to the Viability Statement. So are we; the Mayor promised at the Save Britannia public meeting earlier this year to do so.”
SBLC estimates the council has already spent millions on its application, and Turnbull added: “The council now say they are going to produce responses to the major points raised in objections and embark on another consultation, wasting even more money.”
She concluded: “Wouldn’t it be better if the council admitted at this stage that what Anthology and other objectors say is true – that this scheme is unviable? We are asking the council once again to waste no more money and call a halt to this damaging development plan.”
Both SBLC and Anthology have also raised concerns over the phasing of the project, with the new leisure centre, school and affordable homes to be built before the private flats, sales of which the council hopes will cover much of the initial outlay.
Anthology says the phasing “will clearly impact very significantly on cash flow for the development and raises serious questions over the principle of development”. SBLC goes further, alleging it is a “ruse to avoid full and early scrutiny” of the tower blocks containing the 400 market flats.
Responding to Anthology’s letter, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville issued a staunch defence: “Hackney needs improved leisure provision, hundreds more school places and thousands of new homes. Our proposals help deliver on all of these.”
He spoke of his pride that the council is finding “innovative ways to invest in its communities” despite government funding cuts, and said the lack of affordable housing in the plans is “because we need the income from the homes for sale to help fund the rest of the development”.
He added: “Building new infrastructure on this scale comes with challenges – it’s a balancing act, you can’t please everyone, compromises have to be made, people often don’t like change or new developments near them, and it’s regularly clouded by misinformation.”
Mayor Glanville and SBLC have previously criticised one another for misleading people about the plans.
Glanville added: “Throughout this project there have been many consultations, public meetings and opportunities for people and valued partners like Anthology to share their views. This will continue and we will continue to listen.”
Update: this article was amended at 11:00 on Friday 6 July 2018. The original article described the letter as “leaked”, but a hard copy was recently made available for members of the public to read at Hackney Service Centre.