With just days to go before he leaves City Hall for good, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has cleared two major developments on the Isle of Dogs.
Together, Alpha Square and the Westferry Printworks site are worth more than a £1billion and bring more than 1,000 new homes to the Island – adding to concerns about density and over-development.
The mayor himself wasn’t present at hearings on Wednesday, triggered when Mr Johnson “called-in” the applications against the wishes of Tower Hamlets Council. His office has the ability to override local planning objections if he believes the development has strategic London-wide implications.
Instead, deputy mayor Sir Edward Lister was in the chair, only adding weight to the criticism that the mayor was intent on rushing through a number of key decisions before he leaves office after next week's election (May 5).
Westferry Printworks will see four major towers – one 30 storeys high – 722 homes and a school in nine blocks on the northern edge of Millwall Outer Dock.
Controversy surrounds this development because it is likely to harm wind patterns on the water where around 8,000 schoolchildren a year learn to sail at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre, which has said its livelihood is at stake.
A study by building experts BRE said the impact on “turbulence intensity, the ability to sail a given course, and the ability [to] sail away from the launching location … are all not addressed to my satisfaction”.
Northern & Shell, the owners of the site, have offered £500,000 for the DWSC to build a pontoon that would take sailors to safer waters but it isn’t clear whether the current fleet is up to the job.
Isle of Dogs councillor Andrew Wood said: "I am disappointed that the developer has chosen for two years not to adequately deal with the impact on the sailing centre of the new development which I would otherwise support.
"We know from wind tunnel testing that a superior design could have been adopted that would have reduced the impact on young people learning to sail. Unless the sailing centre are offered an appropriate amount of support to mitigate the impact this decision will cause long term reputational damage to this development."
Meanwhile Hong Kong developer Far East Consortium’s Alpha Square at 50 Marsh Wall will comprise a 65-storey tower rising to 217m, alongside two other shorter towers of 20 and 34 storeys.
This will bring 634 homes, a 20-floor hotel of 231 rooms managed by Dorsett Hospitality International, another new school and health centre.
Sir Edward said Alpha Square was “one of the denser developments” but said the health centre and school persuaded him to wave it through.
He said: “It’s all about the balance. It’s providing 25% of affordable housing on site, which is contrary to a number of schemes we’ve seen.”
Cllr Wood agreed with Sir Edward's assessment. He said: "Residents have expressed relief at the preservation of the North Pole pub and that a new primary school now has planning permission, we now have four primary school in the planning pipeline but need to identify sites for another six if we are to match the expected scale of development.
"This development though confirms again that Marsh Wall will be the UK equivalent of Hong Kong and we need to start planning on that basis if this area is to work”
Mr Johnson has argued in the past that the need for housing and more schools was paramount. A series of delays has meant that he is unable to rule on the Bishopsgate Goodsyard development with the new mayor finding the controversy in their in-tray.
It was widely assumed that Mr Johnson would have cleared the scheme had he had the opportunity as he has rarely turned down any new development that he has called in during his tenure.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson is a “yes man”. That is his legacy, which is perhaps ironic considering the contrary tone he’s setting on the national stage.
He said “yes” to a number of things that perhaps would have been better addressed with a “no”, a “maybe” or, perhaps, a “let’s think about this for a moment”.
He has argued in the past that the forest of cranes are a direct result of him embracing development, arguing that a small percentage of something (namely affordable housing) is better than 35% of nothing.
But his “yes” momentum has tripped him up. It has caused woe over Enderby Wharf and Bishopsgate and it has created Hong Kong on South Quay and the Isle of Dogs
For all his brash derring-do, Boris has left a city as unruly as his hair.