CamdenNewJournal

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Alan’s aim to topple the tower

07 November, 2016 — By John Gulliver

Alan Spence is seeking a judicial review of plans for a 25-storey tower

THE Town Hall has approved it, the London mayor Sadiq Khan has nodded it through, even the responsible government minister has given it the go-ahead, but none of them counted on the opposition of a 90-year-old Bloomsbury man.

Alan Spence was annoyed over the council plan to built a 25-storey block in Somers Town but his objections were brushed aside by the planning committee in the summer. Now solicitors employed by Alan Spence have fired off a letter to Andrew Maughan, head of legal services at the Town Hall, seeking a judicial review.

According to convention, the firm of solicitors, Richard Buxton of Cambridge, wouldn’t have sent their letter if they hadn’t thought Mr Spence had sound legal grounds for a judicial review. They have given the Town Hall until next Wednesday to respond to their warning shot.

The council say by developing the site, and selling off 72 luxury flats in the block they would be able to pay for a grand refurbishment of Edith Neville junior school as well as build several smaller blocks for low income families. But the project met wide opposition – the local councillors opposed it as well as the Neighbourhood Forum and the Somers Town Community Association on the grounds of the height of the skyscraper and the fact that it would take away much-needed open space in an overcrowded area.

But Mr Spence’s main objections centre on something else that, unfortunately, is far too often neglected in new projects – the provision of health facilities. In their letter, the solicitors refer to the council’s own guidelines about the need for “health care provision”. I understand that when Mr Spence made it clear to the firm of Richard Buxton that the council hadn’t made any provision for healthcare they realised he had a good case in law.

Mr Spence wasn’t vague about the kind of healthcare missing in the plan – he had in mind the provision of the kind of all-purpose, revolutionary type of health centres that were first promoted in the 1930s and which led Aneurin Bevan to incorporate in his arguments for the creation of a National Health Service in the late 1940s.

Mr Spence has made a close study of the case for health centres and polyclinics which can be traced back to the late 19th century, particularly the famous Peckham Pioneer Experiment of the mid-1930s where the emphasis is on prevention of health problems. Mr Spence’s objections come at an awkward time for the council, apparent­ly.

To maximise profits, presumably, the council’s plan set out to make sure every available bit of the skyscraper would be set aside for residential flats while failing, perhaps, to create an overall scheme that would take in the need for medical services. I understand the council’s initially worked out margins on the project now seem suspect.

This may be caused by rising costs – particularly labour costs – in a booming market. It remains to be seen whether council officials, who are trained civil servants, are suited to run a building project on tightly controlled costs where, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is a successful profit margin. Apparently, several councillors met recently to discuss bringing in an “external partner” – in other words a private developer to help them out but this would put pressure on their own initial costings.

Meanwhile, Mr Spence’s case for a health centre should appeal to both Somers Town councillors and residents at a time when there is, in effect, only one GP in the heart of the area able to meet the needs of the population, especially the elderly.

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