Developers handed “unprecedented opportunity” in Hackney planning “stitch up”, claim campaigners

Hackney Council has come under fire for handing private developers an “unprecedented opportunity” to influence the planning sub-committee at a “special” pilot meeting where the public is forbidden to speak.

Developers normally discuss potential applications with the council’s specialist planning officers who then recommend any application for approval or refusal to councillors on the planning committee to decide.

But the “extraordinary” meeting gives developers the chance to run their proposals past the committee before making a formal application.

The pilot meeting tonight at the Town Hall will see Rothas Ltd present its revised plans for a 19-storey tower block containing 125 flats on the former Peacocks site in Kingsland High Street.

Its previous application for what was dubbed the “Dalston Green” development was rejected by the planning committee last March because of its bulky design, the paucity of affordable homes and because it compromised future development of adjacent TfL land by locating windows on the boundary wall.

A proposal for the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site in Shoreditch will also be presented by developer Bishopsgate Goods Yard Regeneration Limited.

While developers are allowed 15 minutes to inform the committee of the merits of their plans, then a further 15 minutes to answer the committee’s questions, members of the public cannot ask questions.

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They have been instructed to “remain silent”, in spite of the fact that the council’s planning policy allows the public to register to speak at planning committee meetings.

Bill Parry-Davies, who was denied permission to speak at the meeting on behalf of campaign group OPEN Dalston, believes developers are being handed an unfair advantage.

“It might appear to the public now that they are being stitched up and silenced by giving a developer the unprecedented opportunity to present their best case to the committee but denying the public the right to ask any questions and provide information,” he said.

“When will the planning committee allow the public an equal right, at a formative stage, to make representations to the committee - does the council think residents have nothing useful to offer?” he asked.

He claims the move contradicts the council’s own constitution, which states the committee’s duty is to act fairly and impartially to both developers and local residents, and forbids planning committee members from being lobbied by members of the public, including developers.

“How can the committee appear to act fairly if the public are to remain silent?” asked Mr Parry-Davies.

A spokesman for the council denied there was any conflict of interest in allowing developers to have their say while the public remains silent.

“It’s not really lobbying, it’s done in public and people can see what’s going on,” he said.

“Members of the public get the same information that’s presented to the committee, it’s about the planning committee finding out more. It’s not silencing the public because they didn’t have a voice anyway.

He continued: “Usually discussions of planning proposals at pre-application stage happen with council officers behind closed doors, but, following the lead of other planning authorities including Croydon we have decided to open up discussions so that both the public and planning committee members get to hear about proposals at an early stage.

“This is the first time this has happened in Hackney and we will take feedback from the public on how the meeting is run in order to further develop the process.”