A battle fought and lost in Somers Town
09 February, 2017 — By John Gulliver
The Purchese Street oasis
THIS is the beautiful oasis in Somers Town which will soon be erased to make way for the tallest building in Camden – a 25-storey tower block.
On Tuesday the opposition to the tower were forced to accept defeat after their challenge at the High Court came to nought. The judge Mr Justice Jay – a Camden resident, it seems – rejected their legal arguments, and soon, no doubt, the bulldozers will be trundling their way to the Purchese Street park.
I have no doubt Mr Justice Jay would have been shown photographs of the park but as a jurist almost certainly other arguments would have prevailed with him. But it is only when you see what will be taken away from the people of Somers Town – historically, one of the more congested parts of the borough – that you realise how powerful planners and bureaucrats are and, equally, how powerless local residents must feel.
Two individuals stood up to confront the planners – Alan Spence, aged 90, who lives a little distance away in Bloomsbury, and Slaney Devlin, chairwoman of Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum.
Alan Spence who paid lawyers out of his own savings – a sum believed to be around £3,000 – to contest the scheme, withdrew from the battle after his early legal submissions foundered.
This left Slaney Devlin, who earns a living as a freelance book editor, to take up the gauntlet. She opposed the scheme on the grounds of the loss of open space and the fact that it contravened the London Plan which “limits” development in Somers Town.
Yesterday (Wednesday), she sent an email to her “backers”, that is not only local residents but the hundreds of people who sent donations to her online appeal on Crowdjustice which drew in more than £4,000, including a £500 cheque sent the other day by a donor.
But she will still probably have to find another £5,000 to cover Camden’s legal costs, awarded by the judge. When I rang her a few hours after she had left the High Court she struck me as a woman who refused to be downhearted.
“I’m obviously hugely disappointed, and feel the people of Somers Town are being given a raw deal,” she said.
She copied me in to her email sent to her “backers” which she headed “Update on Stop a tower of luxury flats being built on London park” – the heading ran under the above picture of the park. She thanked everyone for their support and said she would discuss with Forum members – a meeting was due to take place yesterday evening – whether “there is any way forward”.
If anything epitomises the gulf between planners and politicians and the people they represent it is this battle that has been fought and lost in Somers Town.