Andrew Gilligan

Andrew Gilligan: Market Inquiry: Is It Just A Stitch-Up?

September 20, 2010 by  

Even before the public inquiry into Greenwich Market has finished, the developers who want to knock it down are behaving as if they’ve won.

Look on the website of Bespoke Hotels, the operator of the hotel proposed to replace the existing market buildings – and you will see them describing it as a fait accompli: “Greenwich Market Hotel is set to open in 2013 and will be the centrepiece of the total redevelopment of the market square,” the website says. “The new boutique property… will replace a block of buildings on the eastern edge of the market and will include an additional bedroom block on the upper floors in a new purpose-built property at the centre of the market.”

That raises the serious question of whether the inquiry - with its two weeks of hearings, its mountains of paperwork, its expensive lawyers – is merely a charade. Do Bespoke Hotels know something we don’t? Has a whisper been passed?

Until this disturbing development, opponents of the scheme seemed to have had the better of it at the inquiry. Massed ranks of councillors from all parties lined up to oppose the scheme – one, Maureen O’Mara, saying that it would “tear the heart out of Greenwich.” The council, true to its original, unanimous vote against the plans, has committed resources and people to fight the case that the development should not happen.

Transport – something first identified by this blog – has emerged as a key issue, with the inspector questioning why the developers had submitted no travel plan, as they were asked to by Transport for London, to back up their absurd claim that the new hotel would create no more than 16 extra journeys in the peak hour – with almost all of those people travelling by public transport. Guests arriving at luxury hotels with heavy luggage do not, of course, come by public transport – and there will be up to 200 of them staying each night, not to mention deliveries, staff, restaurant visitors, and so on.

The hotel’s main entrance will be in the middle of the one-way system, causing enormous disruption to traffic as coaches, taxis and cars drop off guests. A new transport objection may be that the hotel’s existence would sabotage the council’s plans to pedestrianise part of the one-way system. That, however, is a much less good argument. Not only would any pedestrianisation scheme be a mistake in itself, but it might actually solve the transport problems caused by the hotel – which could be served without disruption by turning King William Walk into a hotel-only access spur.

Much better to concentrate on the dozens of ways in which the development breaches the council’s own planning policy – the Unitary Development Plan – and the at least two ways it breaches national planning policy guidance.

Interesting, too, that the council’s barrister has focused on the developers’ somewhat sharp practice in reporting the results of its public consultation. As we have noted in the past, true to the finest traditions of “nonsultation,” a large number of respondents who in fact raised significant objections to the proposed design were counted as supporters by the developers. Another piece of alleged manipulation brought up at the inquiry was the developers’ selective use of photographs in their planning application to make the new scheme look more acceptable than it is. Bespoke Hotels describes its new concrete slab as “brimful of character,” which is a pretty clear indicator of the mindset we’re dealing with.

As well as the council and councillors, the objectors included dozens of local residents. Perhaps most interestingly, the developers’ changes to the scheme appear not to have convinced any of the original objectors. The Government’s heritage watchdog, the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), said the revised scheme was still ‘alien’ and the scale of the proposed hotel still ‘dominating.’
While the retention and refurbishment in amended design of the existing roof in place of the previously proposed canopy roof was welcomed, CABE remained concerned that the relationship between the roof and the proposed cantilevering building was still not ‘fully resolved’.

The circular layout of the new central block, CABE said, did not address the needs of the proposed retail units, and along with the amount of hotel accommodation, appeared ‘alien’ in the context of the existing market.

It all sounds quite promising – but then there’s that worrying confidence of the developers. Let’s hope they’re just getting ahead of themselves – and that their arrogance may, as it has all along, prove counterproductive. But there’s still the distinct possibility that this is all a stitch-up.


10 Responses to “Andrew Gilligan: Market Inquiry: Is It Just A Stitch-Up?”

  1. Paul T on September 20th, 2010 11:08 am

    Arrogance is their default setting. These people are all ex-MOD, have no relationship with Greenwich, and see the market as their personal fiefdom, a bit like, oh, Diego Garcia . They’ve done a good job, but I wonder if some of their aggression – a barrister haranguing a traders’ representative for 40 minutes in cross examination, insisting, rather as with the ‘consultation’, that her not speaking out at a particular meeting two years ago constituted endorsement of the scheme – is counterproductive.

    I heard the council brief’s final submission, but not the developer’s. However, whereas the development’s effect on the Conservation Area is ultimately subjective – there is always someone, whether the Greenwich Society, or a hired expert, who will claim a 5 storey hotel and the demolition of ‘unattractive’ 100year old stable buildings will ‘improve’ the market – the disabled parking provision is black and white. There isn’t any. And one of the developer’s own witnesses responded that disabled people could simply go to some other hotel. It would be hard for the Communities Secretary to endorse such unashamed discrimination.

    There’s one more intriguing promise on the ‘Bespoke’ (don’t you love how that word has been abused?) Hotels website. That the diners at their restaurant will be able to eat in a cobbled ‘Al Fresco’ courtyard; final proof, if any were needed, that once the hotel is built, they’ll kill off the market as soon as possible.

  2. j garcia on September 21st, 2010 2:09 pm

    How shameful that a trader should be subjected to such a bullying by Greenwich Hospital’s QC.
    How unnecessary to let a highly trained lawyer loose on someone with no legal experience.
    Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?

  3. Paul T on September 21st, 2010 3:17 pm

    Luckily she wasn’t a butterfly, and stood up for herself perfectly well. Perhaps their aggression will prove counter-productive, we will find out around Christmas.

    What I really found amusing about GHE’s final submission was their assertion that the objectors were “uninformed”. Well, they certainly weren’t as ill-informed as GHE would like them to be!

    They would have been much happier if people had remained in the dark about the removal of cobbles/the demolition of Durnford St/The fact Durnford St wasn’t falling down/the fact the hotel are already touting their own dining ‘courtyard’.

  4. Fogey on September 21st, 2010 4:55 pm

    Christmas! Is that when the results of the inquiry are due?? Blimey, its a long wait. BTW Does anyone know what recourse (if any) is left to the community if this goes the wrong way and the bullies at Greenwich Hospital are allowed to proceed with their hideous scheme??

  5. Blissett on September 21st, 2010 6:28 pm

    Whilst I am as concerned as anyone over the proposed development and am hoping to see the Council’s original planning decision upheld, this really is a non-story. Who would seriously expect Bespoke hotels on their own website to talk about their plans in any other way?

  6. Pedro on September 27th, 2010 5:28 pm

    A plausible observation, Blissett, but the fact that Bespoke Hotels have, since the inquiry, taken down the premature reference to their Greenwich hotel, with its cobbled courtyard for dining, might be a clue that they realise they’ve been rumbled!

  7. sadiie on September 28th, 2010 8:59 am

    No, it’s still on their website, I’ve just had a look. What a cheek!

  8. Rob Powell on September 28th, 2010 9:04 am

    Hi Sadiie – I had a look and it’s not where it was. Where are you seeing it?

  9. Paul T on September 28th, 2010 9:46 am

    Fogey, I believe the Inspector will publish his recommendation in November or early December, and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will make his decision early in the New Year.

    I’ve been told that if the verdict is the wrong one, Greenwich Council won’t appeal – they can’t spare the money to go to the High Court.

    Sadie, I had that page in my history and it’s definitely gone, perhaps you’re seeing it from your web cache?

  10. Aurora on October 1st, 2010 8:50 am

    The market at nearby Hays Galleria is similarly under threat from developers who also have used bullying tactics to try to get rid of traders….