Campaigners have been granted a judicial review to contest the Mayor of London’s handling of the divisive Norton Folgate development.
Developers British Land want to demolish the historic buildings in Spitalfields and build housing and work space in their place.
Last month London Mayor Boris Johnson gave British Land the green light to redevelop part of the Spitalfields conservation area, bypassing Tower Hamlets Council.
Campaigners described the Mayor’s ‘calling in’ of the decision as “essentially autocratic” and, in a twist to the battle over the site, have been granted a judicial review hearing at the High Court by Mr Justice Collins.
“Because the Mayor’s handling of these cases is essentially autocratic – the decision is taken by one man alone, and cannot subsequently be challenged – it is of the utmost importance that the correct procedures are followed as a safeguard of the public interest,” the Spitalfields Trust campaign group said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor believes that he has followed the proper process throughout and is confident his decision will be upheld by the courts.”
The Spitalfields Trust was granted the judicial review proceedings on all four grounds on which they believe Mayor Johnson’s calling in of the decision was unlawful.
The group claims it has evidence released through Freedom of Information of “procedural irregularities in the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) handling of the case”.
Tower Hamlets Council posted the paperwork detailing its refusal of the plans, along with 550 letters of objection, to the GLA on 9 September.
“GLA officers were required to read all these documents, to address the application neutrally without pre-judgment,” the Trust said in a statement.
“The Mayor had 14 days to reach his decision. But instead, they sent an email to British Land’s consultants at 10.48am on 10 September — before they could conceivably have read all the relevant papers — assuring them the Mayor intended to call in the application.”
The Trust also believes planning officers did not inform the Mayor that they had objected not just to the development proposals but to the calling in itself.
The other two grounds relate to criteria that must be satisfied to allow the Mayor of London to call in the decision. The criteria cited by the Mayor included the implications of the plans on Crossrail, and the fact the plans would affect more than one borough.
But the campaigners argue that the effect on Crossrail would be slight and that other local authorities have shown little interest.
The case will be heard in the High Court before 5 May.