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Council paperwork bungle delays Ministry of Sound planning showdown

A crucial planning committee meeting that could indirectly decide the future of the Ministry of Sound club has been delayed by another month due to an administrative error by Southwark Council officers.

The Gaunt Street nightclub is concerned that two new nearby residential developments will put its licence at risk if its new neighbours complain about the noise. The club's owners have threatened to take legal action against the council if it allows the developments to proceed.

It is nearly two years since since the proposed new buildings first appeared on the agenda of a Southwark planning committee meeting, but a campaign by the club has led to a series of delays in reaching final decisions.

Plans for one of the schemes – a 22-storey tower on Newington Causeway – were approved by the borough's planning committee last June but the Ministry of Sound asked for the application to be reconsidered by councillors after a new report on noise levels from the club was completed.

The planning committee and members of the public assembled at the council's Tooley Street offices on Tuesday night to find that consideration of the Newington Causeway scheme – and the planning application for the refurbishment and extension of Sea Containers House – would not be discussed after all.

"Both of the agenda items have been withdrawn due to an administrative error and following counsel advice," said planning committee chair Cllr Nick Dolezal.

He explained that the draft decision notice and proposed conditions to be attached to the planning permission had not been circulated alongside the planning officers' report with the main agenda papers.

It is likely that Ministry of Sound's lawyers will be looking for any possible breach of process which it could use to challenge the planning committee's decisions in court, so Southwark's legal advisers will be taking an ultra-cautious approach.

The next scheduled meeting of the planning committee is on 11 October when councillors are also due to consider Oakmayne's application to build a 41-storey tower on the Eileen House site directly opposite the Ministry of Sound.

Nearly 24,000 people have signed Ministry of Sound's online petition calling on Southwark Council to reject both planning applications.

Speaking on BBC London 94.9, Lohan Presencer, chief executive of Ministry of Sound, said this week: "If I was paying upwards of half a million pounds for a 2-bed apartment, I'd expect it to be quiet outside – wouldn't you?"

Cllr Fiona Colley, Southwark's cabinet member for regeneration, said: "We do understand the perspective from both sides, and appreciate that Ministry of Sound is a valued club, business and employer in the area, but we hope a balance can be struck which allows them to continue alongside the equally important regeneration programme for Newington Causeway."

This assurance cuts no ice with Mr Presencer, who added: "They talk about balance and compromise, but it's binary I'm afraid – if these things go ahead, we are going to shut. If we shut, we lose the heritage of this business and 200 people who work here will lose their jobs."

The situation has provoked the bizarre spectacle of a club arguing that it is a very noisy neighbour and seeking to play up the level of disturbance its activities and its customers cause in the locality.

Asked by the BBC to describe how noisy the club is, Mr Presencer said: "There are a variety of noise sources. We are in a disused bus garage so we were never designed to be acoustically insulated. Noise leaks out from the roof anyway and it gets pretty loud in here at 4 o'clock in the morning.

"We have a very busy smoking area outside our club where there are probably a couple of hundred people at any one time chatting and mingling.

"We also have queuing from about 10.30 in the evening till 2 o'clock in the morning. People start to leave the club from 4 or 5 in the morning, so there is a huge amount of noise and that noise can peak to significant levels.

"If I was living in close proximity to it, I would take exception to it."

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