High Court brands Hackney Council’s decision to demolish Holborn Studios ‘unlawful’ and orders it to pay hefty legal bill
- Credit: Jason Joyce
Hackney Council has been landed with a massive legal bill after the High Court branded its decision to allow the demolition of Hoxton’s Holborn Studios “unlawful”.
Galliard Homes’ planning application, which would have provided no affordable homes, was almost identical to one quashed by a High Court judge a year ago.
Yet it got the approval of a council planning officer and was waved through by councillors on the planning sub-committee in January.
While High Court Judge Mr Justice Dove found the council’s planning code was lawful, he said its practice of not allowing members of the public to write to committee members was not.
He added: “It appears that Cllr Stops (chair of the planning committee) was under the impression that he was to resist being lobbied by either an applicant or member of the public, and Cllr Snell had apparently taken legal advice to the effect that he should refrain from reading any lobbying letter and forward it on to officers.
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“Neither of these approaches reflects the defendant’s code, nor does it reflect the entitlement to freedom of expression in accordance with the legal principles.”
Last year a judicial review found the council acted unfairly and unlawfully by granting planning permission in 2016, landing it with a legal bill thought to be in excess of £100,000.
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It is understood the bill will be similar this time around, as the council has been ordered to pay Holborn Studio’s legal costs of £35,000 as well as its own.
Billy McCartney, manager of the photography studios, where Madonna, David Bowie and Margaret Thatcher have been captured on film, said the debacle had been a “huge waste of money” – as he warned in January it would be.
“We are all delighted with the result and hope that the council make urgent and much needed changes to the entire planning process,” he said.
“A top-to-bottom review from sub-committee to head of planning would be a great idea.”
A spokesperson for the council said in a statement: “When it made its decision, the planning sub-committee followed case law regarding the treatment of viability reports.
“The court’s ruling in relation to viability evidence introduces new parameters for local planning authorities on the publishing of background material on this topic.”
They added: “The council welcomes the court’s ruling that its planning code of practice for members, which was challenged in the proceeding, was held to be lawful and that the council’s officers reached a correct interpretation of policies relating to creative industries in their report on the planning application and that the council applied them lawfully.
“The council undertook great efforts (including appointing independent counsel to review the committee’s report) to ensure that the council’s decision was legally robust following a previous legal challenge from Holborn Studios.
“We will now consider our options before providing any further comment.”
The council would not say whether it would take any action on what the judge had said with regards to the stances taken by Cllr Stops and Cllr Snell.
But on Twitter, Cllr Stops said the council’s planning code of conduct for members had taken “a bit of a hit from the courts that we shall have to learn from”.
He added: “But if you know of any better planning service and development in a London borough let me know.”
Nick Perry, from the Hackney Society planning group, said the planning process would benefit from the opportunity to send materials directly to members to consider because “the challenges that members of the public face in getting their point across to the sub-committee in a limited five-minute statement are huge”.
He said: “The fear of refusing permission seems to be effused by everything the planning sub-committee in Hackney does.
“It’s not without a small amount of justification as the system freely allows any developer to challenge the judgment of the local planning authority at no cost, other than it’s own legal professional fees. This pro-developer stance is no accident and it leads the council to take an unrealistic “risk-of-appeal” approach to planning, including not exposing themselves to accusations of lobbying.
“But as the judge recognises, lobbying is an important feature of freedom of expression in connection with democratic decision-taking.”