Last night, 16 November, Camden gave outline permission finally for the Argent development proposals, despite the representations of many objecting groups and despite many of the borough councillors saying (?just saying) that they would have voted against it if they felt they legally could.
I just wanted to jot some comments down while it is fresh in my mind – personal comments, not made on behalf of any group or organisation. If you want to join in a public post-mortem do comment but remember this is a public forum and some points you may prefer to send as direct email firstname.lastname@example.org
For sure we have a shockingly bad system for taking such decisions in the UK. Here we had a new committe, with many inexperienced members grappling with an issue of great importance and complexity on which they had little briefing and only 7 days to read a massive officers’ report. Even the experienced committee members who had been through earlier years seemed to have only a slight familiarity with it – and some even said so. They (or at least a sub-group of them) should have been immersed in the material and in deliberations with the applicants and citizen groups for months if it were to be a seriously-informed decision. The previous (Labour controled) council and its officials had enforced a highly restrictive purdah on committee members, effectively isolating them from all that was going on and making them entirely dependent on material filtered through the officers.
The challenge made by most of the local citizen groups (cooperating with each other as the King’s Cross Think Again Campaign (convened by the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group http://www.kxrlg.org.uk) was of two parts:
(i) a legal challenge to the procedural failings in the earlier decision process, amounting to a case that the council would be acting unlawfully if it gave permission;
(ii) a detailed commentary with detailed revision proposals on the Section 106 agreement which had been in preparation for many months and was up for final approval yesterday.
The essence of what happened was that
(i) on the legal challenge they (Camden) had secured a legal advice from their solicitors Denton Wilde Sapte, seeking to rebut our points and warning councillors that they would be at serious risk of having costs awarded against them if they reversed the March decision-in-principle without watertight legal imperatives – of which there were none. This was backed up by an opinion from an independent barrister and an oral postscript even to that, reinforcing the “robustness” of the threat. The speeches will be on the webcast archive at camden.gov.uk. It was a very well-calculated move on their part and it shocked the councillors into submission, except for a couple of brave stalwarts.
(ii) on the section 106 agreement, all attempts at sending it back for further revision were simply rebuffed as not possible. When Mr Madelin (CEO of Argent) was directly asked, he said something like “No. This is the best you will get. Further revisions may emerge as we start to work in partnerhip with each other [this meant Argent with Camden, not with citizens, I’m sure ]. But now we just have to get this agreed and move on.”
Good speeches from Ernest James of the Conservation Area Advisory Committee and some others. But I think we all felt that the speeches made no difference. The odds were very stacked and of course we could not bring on our own lawyers or cross-examine any of them as one could do in a public inquiry.
So now we are sailing towards a full-scale judicial review. There has to be a better way of doing these things.
NB there was an interesting exchange early on where madelin said something like “I have heard all these objections time and again, and answered them all time and again. Wasn’t anyone listening?” and someone replied to the effect that “we don’t accept the answers.” I’ll check this against the record when I can.
All the documents and back-story are on http://www.kxrlg.org.uk