Royal Mail criticised over £32m development plans

Royal Mail plans to build hundreds of new homes on the Mount Pleasant site. Image: Royal Mail

A controversial £32m development in Clerkenwell to build nearly 700 homes on the Mount Pleasant site moved a step closer this weekend when Royal Mail announced its latest planning proposals.

Running Thursday to Saturday, the company held a three-day exhibition at Holy Redeemer Church on Exmouth Market to outline its £32m proposals for the Mount Pleasant Sorting Office, which have been criticised by residents.

The postal service hopes to build 683 homes on 55% of the 12-acre site, as well as shops, offices, restaurants, and more public space. If given the go-ahead by the council, it would transform the area surrounding Farringdon Road and Phoenix Place.

Some aspects of the development have been questioned previously. After a similar showing in October, concerns included the proposed high-rise buildings near Calthorpe Street and the Holiday Inn looking out of place as well as blocking both light and the existing environment and community, and the large number of houses planned for such a small space.

After complaints about the application at two subsequent public meetings, a Royal Mail statement on Thursday said: “We received a lot of comments and feedback from local residents and stakeholders which have been carefully considered by the development team over the past couple of months.”

However, the absence of significant changes to the proposals have left many still frustrated.

Development by NumbersEdward Denison, an architect who helped set up the Mount Pleasant Forum to provide a platform for discussion of the development, told Islington Now that the lack of local involvement  or innovative planning had left many disappointed.

He said: “I think the overwhelming message is that everyone welcomes development, but people want quality and a) it’s not, and b) there hasn’t been the opportunity to tap into local knowledge.

“There’s all sorts of things that the local community can add and there is a real sense that they haven’t been given that opportunity. In relation to the previous exhibitions nothing significant has changed. The number of houses has been reduced from 750 to around 680, that’s about it.

“What people feel let down by is there doesn’t seem to be a vision. What is proposed is a bland, inner city housing project that you see all over London. There just doesn’t seem to be anything thrilling, it’s very mediocre.”

George Allan, a Lib Dem councillor for Clerkenwell and member of the planning committee, was wary of the danger of segregating the area. He said: “I think it is inevitable that [building size] will be one of the major issues. I have heard people say that they should all be Georgian houses but that just isn’t possible under the current policy.

“I’m afraid I do think with the current Labour administration, although they do complain about polarisation in the borough they continue these planning policies which polarise really very prosperous people and those at the other end of the scale – and this development personifies this.

“An area that is composed of the extremes is, I think, not sustainable.”

Mr Allan was also concerned that the short time span between now and the date of submitting the proposal in April leaves very little to be consulted.

He said: “I’ve been commenting on applications for over 30 years and it is amazing how they can be changed, but if [the application] is granted, then basically the opportunities for public comment are limited.”

Sally Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the Royal Mail, said: “The consultation was well attended and we will now be considering the comments and views of those who attended to help inform our development plans.”

The company, estimated to make up to £1bn from the development, has pledged to provide nearly 1,000 construction jobs while work takes place over a 30-month period, and over 400 positions once it is completed.

The exhibition is the last stage before plans are submitted to the council in April, and work on the two-and-a-half year project could begin as early as next year if they are approved.

The sorting office at Mount Pleasant will continue to run on the site. Locations in Battersea, the West End, Paddington, and Reading have all closed in the last five years as part of the company’s privatisation strategy.