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Only Secretary of State ‘call-in’ can stop Soho demolition now

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government should ‘call-in’ the demolition of a chunk of a Soho conservation area which includes the former Foyles building.

The Victorian Society is urging the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, to ‘call-in’ the demolition of a chunk of a Soho conservation area which includes the former Foyles building. The Society argues that both Westminster Council and the Mayor of London failed to properly apply planning law in allowing the demolition. Last year plans to demolish historic buildings on the Strand were withdrawn after the Secretary of State called in Westminster Council’s decision.

The Victorian Society’s Senior Conservation Adviser, James Hughes, said: ‘Neither Westminster Council nor the Mayor has addressed the fact that demolition is not the only way to achieve the suggested public benefits for the site. This area has already seen swathes of historic buildings destroyed including the Astoria and the handsome Victorian blocks on both sides of Charing Cross Road. Many Londoners have happy memories of the old Foyles building and struggle to see why it is being demolished rather than redeveloped. The Secretary of State must take a strong stance and call in this decision to ensure this important conservation area is preserved.’

The Victorian Society, Historic England and SAVE all requested London’s new Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to call in the demolition of the historic buildings. The Mayor declined to do so on the basis of the Greater London Authority’s conclusion that the substantial harm to the conservation area caused by the demolition was outweighed by public benefits. However, this advice failed to consider Paragraph 133 of the National Planning Policy Framework which states that local planning authorities should refuse consent where substantial harm would be caused, unless that harm is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm.

The public benefits of the scheme were said to include economic benefits to London’s economy, affordable housing, and public realm improvements. The Society believes that the Secretary of State should call in the application as these benefits could clearly be achieved by a scheme which incorporated, rather than demolished, the existing historic buildings.  Consequently, as demolition is not necessary to achieve those benefits permission should have been refused under para 133 NPPF. A petition requesting the Secretary of State to call in the decision already has nearly 5,000 signatures.

Last year King’s College London withdrew its plans to demolish a row of historic buildings in a conservation area on the Strand after fierce public opposition and concern from the Victorian Society and others led to a call-in from the Secretary of State.

The Planning appolicatiopn approved by Westminister Council can be viewed here>

Wednesday 29 June, 2016

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