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Hatfields ballet school plan faces public inquiry in height row

The public inquiry into plans for two towers between Hatfields and Paris Garden which were refused by Southwark Council has opened after developers went back on their pledge not to pursue an appeal.

Hatfields ballet school
How the design evolved from 2007 to 2009: the scheme on the right was approved in January but now Hive is appealing against the refusal of permission for the centre scheme.

The application by Hive Student Residences is for student accommodation above a space to be occupied by the Central School of Ballet fronting Hatfields. The design is by Southwark architects Allies and Morrison.

A plan for 11 and 13-storey towers side by side on the site bordered by Hatfields and Paris Garden was refused last year.

Following refusal the developers submitted a new scheme for 9 and 13-storey towers on the site which was approved early this year. At the time the developers said that they would drop their appeal against the earlier refusal if the smaller scheme received the go-ahead.

However, wthin a week an appeal was lodged to overturn the refusal of the 11 and 13-storey storey blocks.

Hive claims that they need the extra 41 student rooms in the larger scheme to make the development viable - and that the Central School of Ballet's ability to contribute to the costs of the building has been affected by the economic downturn.

"We are not happy and feel that there has been a great loss of trust," said Jenni Williamson of the Friends of Hatfields Green addressing the inquiry.

The Friends are supporting the ballet school opposite the green but object to the two tall towers.

"Although the development is being promoted as a ballet school it is predominatly residential student accommodation. There is no reference in the design of the building that it is a ballet school. It is a large over-bearing development."

The decision to appeal will not improve community relations say the Friends who are calling for an increase in planning gain for Hatfields Green if the extra storeys are agreed.

The site is on the Southwark boundary and David Elvin QC, for the developers, pointed out that Lambeth Council had not objected to the towers.

"Although there are two conservation areas (Roupell Street and Waterloo) and listed buildings in the locality, no issues arise with regard to them."

Mr Elvin listed three benefits of the proposal: a much-needed home for the ballet school, high quality student accommodation and the regeneration of a long vacant site.

Charles Banner, lawyer for Southwark Council, said that the clear message from Southwark Council was that the proposed building must respond to the surroundings.

"The nine storey block is the upper limit of what is acceptable. The benefits can be delivered by the approved scheme. The appeal proposals are inappropriate and contrary to the (Southwark) Plan."

Norman Brockie, a Southwark Council Planning team leader, said that Hatfields needed more sensitivity than Paris Garden and a stepping down to the west from thirteen to nine storeys rather than just eleven was desirable.

"The consented scheme quite clearly has two towers which are physically different towers. You have a stepping down to the west. The mass of the two similar towers cannot achieve this."

During cross examination Mr Elvin reminded the inspector that officers had once recommended the scheme. Mr Brockie responded that he agreed with the councillors on the planning committee who rejected the application.

Whilst Mr Elvin suggested that it was "a matter of metres in dispute", Mr Brockie maintained that there was a "clear difference in context".

During subsequent exchanges reference was made to recent approval for tall buildings at nearby 20 Blackfriars Road and Doon Street.

The hearing, presided over by planning inspector Gyllian Grindey, is sitting at the Southwark Learning & Business Centre in Peckham.

The location has been criticised by several people attending the inquiry. At lunchtime, after a three hour session, the inspector had to ask if anyone knew where sandwiches could be obtained. Nobody in the room was able to give an answer. One lawyer suggested that in future the local authority should take catering provision into account when booking venues.

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