Legal challenge issued to protect green oasis in Camden

Somers Town in central Camden is a green oasis, of mature woodland and community garden in one of the most deprived areas of central London. Set in the middle of a housing estate, it is a space of real amenity value where many of the residents do not have outside space and is designated as both public and private green space. Next to some of London’s most significant redevelopment around King’s Cross and St Pancras, it was designated in the local plan as a place of “limited change”.

When a local group, Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum (STNF) first approached ELF nearly two years ago, it was because they were concerned over Camden Council’s emerging proposals in respect of the treasured and much cherished green space. They were right to be worried as Camden’s proposals took shape. ELF has been working with the group ever since in conjunction with Dr Jane Holder at UCL – looking at issues of green space and their own emerging neighbourhood plan.

However ELF’s most important role came recently after Camden approved a planning application, granted to themselves to redevelop the land, as feared, building on the green space. Despite the limited change designation, the planning permission envisages vast change. In order to pay for the redevelopment of a school, the development requires as “enabling development” a 25 story tower of luxury apartments, the felling of dozens of mature trees and the loss of the beautiful community garden, created just over a decade ago in recognition of all the upheaval and disturbance locals endured during the construction of HS1 (Eurostar). Frightened at the prospect of their neighbourhood changing irreconcilably ELF sought expert advice for the group.

Working with a fantastic barrister at 39 Essex Street, Daniel Stedman Jones, we worked on drawing up grounds for a judicial challenge. As litigation became more certain ELF brought in Paul Thompson of Temple Bright solicitors, ELF solicitor member and ex ELF intern.

We already knew that the Council had given no consideration in the planning officer’s report to the CS4 policy on the area being one of “limited change”.

CS4 states:

“The Council will ensure that development in the areas of more limited change respects the character of its surroundings, conserves heritage and other important features and provides environmental improvements and other local benefits where appropriate”

The policy sets the strategic priorities for Somers Town and, as such, is the most important overarching planning policy for the area and not being considered – in our view – was an error in law.

Through Daniel’s further investigations we also realised that no needs assessment had been carried out on the issue of public space provision. A needs assessment is required by the London Plan. It says “Replacement of one type of open space with another is unacceptable unless an up to date needs assessment shows that this would be appropriate”. No up to date needs assessment had been carried out which was another failing.

Two weeks ago proceedings were issued in the High Court and last week a CrowdJustice page for raising funds was set up. You can read more here.

For ELF this is a really important case and gets to the heart of what is required for communities to feel they have a voice. These grounds of challenge were represented to the Council by STNF and ignored.

The importance of green space to communities for health and wellbeing was recently commented on by James Cross CEO of Natural England. See here.

ELF would like to thank Daniel and Paul for their great work in bringing this all to pass.