Controversial sorting offices site on market
We hope our bid will be successful, say campaigners opposing tower blocks backed by Boris
10 February, 2017 — By Koos Couvée
Alternative vision of lower-rise development
ROYAL Mail has started the process of selling off a large chunk of Mount Pleasant sorting offices, the site at the centre of a bitter planning row between the Town Hall and former Mayor Boris Johnson in 2014.
The company has planning permission for 681 homes, in 10 blocks of up to 15 storeys, at the site which borders Clerkenwell and King’s Cross.
The scheme provoked fierce opposition from nearby residents and Islington and Camden councils in 2013. The following year Royal Mail was controversially given planning permission by Mr Johnson, who overruled the local authorities and dismissed those who disagreed with the plans as “bourgeois nimbys”.
The 3.5 hectare site was formerly publicly owned but when Royal Mail was privatised in 2013 – for £1bn less than its true value – it was transferred into the hands of shareholders. The plans approved for the site include only 23 per cent affordable housing. Islington’s target is 50 per cent.
Nearby residents who formed Mount Pleasant Association (MPA), a neighbourhood forum, have completed designs for a rival, 725-home scheme with more affordable homes in a lower-rise, neoclassical style with the help of architect Francis Terry. Artist’s impression of the scheme planners approved MPA is forming a consortium, which includes social enterprise Create Streets, financial investors such as pension funds and housing associations and a developer, with the aim of making a bid for the site.
Edward Denison, of MPA, said: “If you see the sales brochure it’s very much aimed at bankers. Our design itself is a denser scheme with more houses.
Artist’s impression of the scheme planners approved
“We identify that London has an acute housing problem, and needs to actually build homes that people want to live in, and family homes.
“We hope our bid will be successful in the sale. If we fail, the successful bidder will deliver the current planning permission or scrap the lot and go back to the drawing board. Any successful bidder will probably seek to amend the current permission, which is outdated.
“We want to work with Royal Mail so a good development is delivered and we don’t think this development does that.”
Around a hectare of the site will remain in Royal Mail ownership. Property consultancy Knight Frank is handling the sale. Royal Mail refused to give a guide price but a previously mooted figure was in the region of £300million.
Islington housing chief Diarmaid Ward described the sale as “a cynical move to maximise profit”, adding: “The sale of Mount Pleasant is a double tragedy. First, hundreds of ordinary Londoners were deprived of desperately-needed affordable homes there when Boris Johnson waved through Royal Mail plans containing a woeful amount of social housing.
“We believe the scheme could deliver nearly twice as many affordable homes at half the rents Royal Mail proposed, while still remaining profitable and viable.
“Second, taxpayers lost a huge amount when the government’s botched sale of Royal Mail significantly undervalued its assets, including the Mount Pleasant site.”
A Royal Mail spokeswoman said: “Royal Mail has begun to market for sale the parts of our Mount Pleasant site that are surplus to our operations. This will not affect our operations at Mount Pleasant.
“We are also now in the process of identifying potential contractors to start working on separating our operations from the areas of the site earmarked for development. These works will take around three years to complete and require significant investment from Royal Mail. They are vital to any redevelopment on the site. It is expected that these works will begin later this year.”