The Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing has dismissed an appeal seeking planning permission for several tall towers on the site of a former printworks in east London after the Planning Court quashed a previous grant of permission by the Secretary of State on the ground of apparent bias.
The land in question, the former Westferry Printworks site on the Isle of Dogs, was once used to print the Daily Telegraph and Daily Express newspapers. A proposal to redevelop the site for over 1,500 residential units, shops, offices, restaurants and community uses was the subject of a three-week public inquiry in August 2019 after the local planning authority, Tower Hamlets Council, refused planning permission. The Secretary of State recovered the appeal for his own determination.
In his first report, the Secretary of State’s inspector recommended that planning permission be refused, identifying several breaches of the development plan.
In a decision dated 14 January 2020, the Secretary of State disagreed with his inspector’s recommendation and allowed the appeal. The Secretary of State issued his decision one day before the Council was due to adopt its new Local Plan and approve a new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) Charging Schedule to take effect on 17 January 2020. This new Charging Schedule would have resulted in the developer becoming liable for a substantial CIL payment, if planning permission were granted on or after 17 January 2020, whereas before then, the development was “zero-rated” for CIL under the Council’s original Charging Schedule.
The Secretary of State accepted, in response to a High Court challenge issued by the Council, that the timing of the decision to grant planning permission would lead the “fair-minded and informed observer” to conclude that there was a “real possibility” that he was biased in favour of the developer in granting planning permission (Porter v McGill  2 AC 357).
The Planning Court remitted the appeal to the Secretary of State to be redetermined.
At the request of the two main parties, the inspector who had conduct of the original inquiry was reappointed to reopen the original inquiry into the appeal in May 2021. The inspector prepared a further report taking account of changes in planning policy and the evidence since the date of his first report. The inspector recommended again that planning permission be refused.
In a decision issued on 18 November 2021, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, accepted the inspector’s latest recommendation and dismissed the appeal.
Paul Brown QC acted for the developer, Westferry Developments Ltd.