Mayor of London Ken Livingstone this week hit out at Southwark Council for 'faffing around' and holding up the development of Potters Fields next to City Hall.
Speaking at the launch of his draft housing strategy at City Hall on Tuesday, Mr Livingstone embarked on what he admitted was a "rant" about delays to housing developments caused by borough councils.
"Look at the site site down here [pointing to Potters Fields] – we could have practically had housing available for sale and letting but Southwark Council has faffed around ... and said it didn't like the design.
"It has now come to the point where it might be the first time that I use a compulsory purchase order on council-owned land, because we can't have sitting next to City Hall a site vacant year after year after year, when one of London's best developers has been ready to build housing on it – some for market and some for rent."
Southwark council leader Nick Stanton, who has clashed with Ken Livingstone in the past, said: "I cannot believe that Ken Livingstone is suggesting he would put London tax payers' money into a 5 year court battle he has no chance of winning. We will fight all the way to protect Southwark's resources in the face of this kind of threat.
"The council is continuing to work with Berkeley Homes, and we are particularly surprised to hear these comments from Mr Livingstone considering that in recent weeks we have met and had very useful discussions with the LDA about how to move things forward."
"The Mayor's threat is out of order," says Green Party London Assembly member and Southwark councillor Jenny Jones, who has consistently opposed the Berkeley scheme.
"The vast majority of local people support a cultural use for the publicly owned land on this strategic site. Berkeley Homes' proposals are completely inappropriate for the location and Ken Livingstone is wrong to seek to force them through.
"We are in the current impasse over this site because of past blunders in handling the issue, we do not need the Mayor rushing in and making another huge mistake to make the situation even worse."
The derelict former coach park between Potters Fields Park and the southern approach to Tower Bridge has been a controversial site for many years.
Berkeley Homes won planning permission on appeal for a development of eight cylindrical towers designed by Ian Ritchie as well as a lower-rise block of affordable housing on the corner of Queen Elizabeth Street and Tower Bridge Road.
As the larger proportion of the land is owned by Southwark Council there has been an empasse as the authority has refused to sell to Berkeley Homes, insisting that the prime site should have some cultural use.
The manifesto on which Southwark's Lib Dem-led administration was elected last year included a pledge to lead "the development of the vacant site between Potters Fields Park and Tower Bridge to include a nationally and internationally-recognised centre for arts and culture".
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