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Renowned Clerkenwell architect accuses council of ‘breaching human rights’

‘There is a clear planning breach’ the council says.

05 July, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Architects Dominic Kacinskas, Alex Cotterill and Amin Taha, and office manager Elisa Lam outside the threatened building in Clerkenwell Close. 

AN AWARD-WINNING architect has accused the council of breaching his human rights after they issued a demolition notice on a building he designed.

Legal teams representing Islington Council and architect Amin Taha have locked horns this week in front of a planning inspector at a hearing which will decide whether the six- storey building in 15 Clerkenwell Close should be demolished.

Mr Taha’s team argued that the two demolition orders delivered by the council were a
breach of the occupiers’ human rights.

The development has eight homes – Mr Taha lives in one himself – as well as office space.

Reuben Taylor QC, for Mr Taha at the planning inspectorate hearing in Holloway Road, said: “The requirement to demolish the building would cause significant interference with the rights of the commercial and residential occupiers of the building.”

The dispute has been ongoing since the first demolition order n 2017 when residents and councillors objected to the “rough” stone exterior of the building that was unveiled after scaffolding was taken down.

15 Clerkenwell Close

Mr Taha argued then that a Town Hall administration bungle meant his plans to use a rough stone exterior were not uploaded on to the planning portal.

In an unusual twist, Mr Taha’s legal team are now not appealing on the grounds that what was built does reflect the original planning permission granted.

Mr Taylor said that there was too much “confusion” on this point.

He added: “The confusion which exists is likely a product of the action of both the council and the appellant. But the confusion is such that, in reality, it is now very difficult to establish conclusively what was precisely granted planning permission.”

The council have been asked to grant retrospective planning permission for what has been built.

Other issues raised by the council were that the building – which won a prestigious Royal Institute of British Archtiects (RIBA) award in 2018 – protrudes 700mm in front of the building line on the road, it does not provide enough office space and the plant roof is not in keeping with the historic nature of the Clerkenwell Conservation Area skyline.

Representing the council, Daniel Kolinski QC said: “What is unusual and unfortunate about the present case is that this important debate is taking place after an unauthorised building has been constructed.

“The planning issues are familiar but the stakes for those involved on both sides of the debate are now much higher.

“The starting point is that there has been a clear breach of planning control.”

Amin Taha at the Planning Inspectorate meeting 

The council argued that the building has a detrimental impact on several heritage sites including the Marx Memorial Library, No29 Clerkenwell Green and St James Church – all grade-II listed.

Mr Kolinski added that the council is prepared to explore alternatives to full demolition. The top storey could be altered as well as the distinctive stone exoskeleton, the council argued.

Speaking about the council’s suggested alterations, Mr Taha told the Tribune: “Nothing is structurally impossible. But whether it is feasible is another matter.

“Who is going to pay for it? Fooling around with some glass at the top is possible.”

He added: “Obviously I am not happy about this.” A decision will be made by planning inspector Peter Jarratt within 15 weeks.

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