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Hefty bill for Somers Town tower opponents after High Court defeat

Judge says application for judicial review has 'no real legs'

08 February, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Slaney Devlin: ‘I find the result difficult to swallow’

OPPONENTS to a tower block and transformation of one of Camden’s most densely populated areas have been left with a heavy bill after a legal challenge at the Royal Courts of Justice was thrown out.

A High Court judge dismissed an application for judicial review over Camden Council’s “regeneration” plan in Somers Town on Tuesday morning.

The case was that the development, which includes a 25-storey tower block, would bring about a significant loss of “private and public space” – the size of five tennis courts – and the Town Hall had breached its own planning guidelines in approving it.

But Justice Jay ruled “in my judgment, it does not have reasonable chance of success”, adding that the argument “had no real legs at all”. He accepted Camden’s request for legals costs, awarding £5,000 – the maximum available – to be paid to the council.

He said it was “not excessive” that the council had hired a “leading counsel”, Hereward Philpott, a top QC, as the development was a major one. Daniel Stedman Jones, junior counsel for campaigner Slaney Devlin, who had brought the case, suggested the costs were “on the high side”.

After the hearing Ms Devlin, chairwoman of the Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum, said: “I find it difficult hard to swallow. I’m really sad about it and what it means for Somers Town in terms of what is coming: the triple whammy of HS2, Crossrail 2 and the council taking away our parks for seven years.”

She added: “It is very, very hard for a community such as Somers Town, which would not perhaps naturally resort to the law. In Hampstead I’m sure they’d be queuing up. It was a difficult thing to do. I thought we had a very good chance, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.”

The challenge followed approval from Camden’s own planners for the council to press ahead with plans to build 136 homes in eight blocks of flats in Purchese Street and Polygon Road. A developer has yet to be named. The money that the scheme brings in will pay for improvements to Edith Neville and St Aloysius primary schools, new headquarters for the Plot 10 youth centre and new council homes.

Mr Stedman-Jones had argued that “all open spaces should be protected” – whether they were public or private – but his honour Justice Jay said he accepted the council’s argument that although “some space is lost overall, the quality is improved”. In an unusual aside, Justice Jay told the court that he lived in Camden, “although not near Somers Town”, but that he knew the area and had cycled through it.

The development is part of Camden Council’s wider community investment programme (CIP), which aims to use the borough’s high land values by selling sites to pay for homes and schools. After the hearing, Cllr Phil Jones, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Transport and Planning at Camden Council, said: “We are now keen to move forward with the proposals for Somers Town, which will bring about much-needed investment, and are designed to benefit all residents.”

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