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London Mayor concedes over planning permission for London hotel site, agrees to pay council £90k in costs

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has accepted he was wrong to grant planning permission for a west London hotel site and has agreed to pay the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea costs of £90,000.

The High Court quashed his grant of planning consent. It also ruled that if Mr Khan were minded to give the project permission when redetermining the application he must give the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government 21 days’ notice of this.

Kensington & Chelsea was given permission to take the dispute to judicial review last October.

It had rejected the initial planning permission application for redevelopment of the Kensington Forum Hotel site.

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The application was called in by Mr Khan, who approved it after the developers offered to include more social housing.

Kensington & Chelsea argued the mayor acted with an improper purpose by not allowing the Secretary of State the opportunity to first consider calling in the application.

Developers Queensgate Investments and Rockwell plan to convert the present 906 bedrooms hotel into one of 749 rooms with 340 serviced apartments and a conference centre, restaurants, bars and health spa.

It will also provide 62 homes, which it agreed with Mr Khan will all be social housing.

Commenting on the case, barrister Charles Streeten of Francis Taylor Building, who acted for the council, said the High Court had quashed the planning permission after Mr Khan conceded in a consent order that granting the permission was motivated by the improper purpose of frustrating the Secretary of State.

After the council refused permission Mr Khan issued an Article 5 direction, allowing him to determine the application.

But the council said the mayor had misrepresented its performance in housing delivery.

Mr Streeten said that, notwithstanding advanced negotiations between the council, the mayor and the developer on the terms of section 106 planning obligations, Mr Khan and the developer “had executed a unilateral undertaking secretly and at pace so that [the council] were not a party to the obligation”.

This meant permission could be rapidly granted even though the Secretary of State was considering call-in.

Mr Streeten said: “It became apparent that there were factual disputes regarding the background to the decision to grant planning permission, including the nature of any agreement between MHCLG and the [Greater London Authority], the circumstances in which the unilateral undertaking was executed, and the motivation behind the decision to issue the decision notice.”

The council reminded the mayor of his duty of candour and requested various documents, which the mayor refused to supply.

Following this, the council successfully applied to the High Court for permission to cross-examine the then chief planner and a planning team leader at the Greater London Authority (GLA), after it argued that factual evidence given by GLA officers was not credible, and that the mayor’s approach to the duty of candour and disclosure had fallen short of the standard to be expected of a public authority.

A “very substantial number of documents” were then disclosed, Mr Streeten said, and the mayor accepted that granting permission had been motivated by an improper purpose.

He said: “This lengthy sequence of litigation and the defendant’s ultimate concession demonstrate the importance of tenacity and procedural ingenuity in judicial review litigation.

“The case is a salutary warning of the risks attendant upon the poor discharge of the duty of candour by public bodies, not least in the form of very adverse costs consequences.”

Mark Smulian

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