Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

Last month, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, decided to call in the planning application for the Mount Pleasant site that stretches across the London Boroughs of Islington and Camden. This means that he decided to circumvent both local Councils and, as a result, he alone will now act as the Planning Authority and make the decision alone whether or not to grant the Royal Mail Group (RMG) permission to go ahead with their plans for the site.

I and my colleague, Assembly Member Dismore, who represents the people of Camden, had previously written to the Mayor to ask him not to do so, but he failed to listen to our demands and called in the application nonetheless.

Our letter to the Mayor, which asked him not to call in the application was based on the following:

1) there was a significant and almost universal voice in the local community on both the Camden and Islington sides for him not to act alone and to leave it to the local Councils to resolve;

2) it cannot be right for one man alone, with only limited local accountability, to have the final say on such an important planning application for the area. Local Councillors not only know the locality far better than Boris, but they are much more accountable to their residents and will put local people’s considerations at the forefront of the decision-making process, rather than the Mayor who might be more easily swayed by the shareholders of the developers;

3) by calling in the planning application, he is undermining local democracy and is setting a worrying precedent whereby private developers that are not getting everything their own way will simply write to the Mayor to ask him to circumvent Councils, democratically-elected Councillors and the people that they represent; and

4) the plans for the site as they currently stand only have a pitiful 12% of the housing units listed as being affordable housing. Islington Council wanted the figure nearer a much better 50%, but RMG were having none of it and the Mayor clearly agrees. Boris has already hit Londoners by setting ‘affordable’ housing at 80% of the market value, and now he seems to think that having a mere 12% of housing units classified as affordable is acceptable. We’ll soon see a situation where inner London will see itself being hollowed out to be left as the playground of the rich.

In Mayor’s Question Time, I challenged Boris on this terrible decision to call in the Mount Pleasant planning application, a video of which you can see here.

Not only did he fail to offer any real explanation for why he has called in the application, and certainly gave no sign that he will change his mind, but he criticised me for standing up for the people I am elected to represent.

It leaves me wondering more everyday who the Mayor actually represents, and, to me, it gets clearer by the day that he only stands up for the wealthy majority, has little interest in proper democratic processes and is prepared to put money before people.

Rest assured, I will continue the fight to get him to reconsider this short-sighted and financially-driven decision, and urge all local residents to contribute to mine and Assembly Member Dismore’s public consultation, which can be accessed here.

Yesterday’s news that Boris has agreed to call in the Mount Pleasant application is a dreadful blow for local democracy. It is disappointing, if not surprising, that the now private developers – Royal Mail Group – tried to go above the heads of Islington and Camden Councils because they weren’t getting it all their own way; but it is disgraceful that Boris has decided to grant RMG their wish by calling in the application to City Hall.

The Mayor has said that his decision is based on trying to speed up the application to get on with building thousands of homes, but he fails to say that the reason for the ongoing discussions between RMG and Islington and Camden Councils was because the Councils were pushing RMG to increase the number of affordable housing units – which, in RMG’s latest plans, stands at an appalling 12% of the total number of units.

What is worrying is that the Mayor has shown bad form before about going above the heads of local councils with the Convoy’s Wharf development in Lewisham. If he repeats this with the Mount Pleasant development and grants RMG their planning permission after the hearing, he will, once again, demonstrate how apathetic he is about properly addressing the housing crisis that London is facing so that ordinary people can afford to live here. He is pushing us towards the situation where we’ll see a hollowing out of our great city, where houses in central London will simply become the playground of the rich and wealthy.

Rest assured, I will continue to fight on behalf of Islington Council and the residents who will be affected by this. The right to decide on this planning application must be handed back to local, elected officials and, more importantly, the residents of Islington and Camden that the Councillors are here to represent.