Why Royal Mail should sell Mount Pleasant to the community

Edward Denison

Royal Mail Group's consented scheme for Mount Pleasant, drawn up by AHMM, Allies & Morrison, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Wilkinson Eyre

Source: Cityscape

Royal Mail has put Mount Pleasant up for sale, along with a consented scheme by four leading architects. The first to express interest is the local community, which has spent years drawing up a rival proposal which is now on the brink of consent itself. Here, two of the residents behind Britain’s largest-ever Community Right to Build Order explain why their bid should be taken seriously.

Mount Pleasant, the old mail depot sprawling across five hectares of Farringdon, has attracted a lot of negative attention over the years, as the privatised Royal Mail Group (RMG) sought to capitalise on the windfall it received from the British public in the form of land. Last week it announced the sale of this land, which comes with a permission to build 681 homes and commercial premises worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Mount Pleasant Association (MPA) is delighted that the RMG is finally selling the land so that this blighted brownfield site can at last be developed and become a vital part of the local neighbourhood. However, we firmly believe the extant scheme is not fit for purpose. It neither adequately addresses the site conditions nor meets the needs of the local or wider community. Worse still, being nearly half a decade old, the design principles and economic assumptions on which this whole scheme was constructed are gravely outdated.

Buoyed by the support we have received from professionals and other communities across London, the MPA and its professional team headed by Create Streets sought to prove that an alternative solution is not merely possible, but essential.

The alternatives – building a redundant scheme or going back to the drawing board – would be a blow for the community, for Londoners and for the taxpayer

Last September the recently established Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood Forum (MPNF) submitted Britain’s largest-ever Community Right to Build Order (CRtBO) for 125 homes on a portion of the Mount Pleasant site with the intention of attracting investors to buy the entire site and realise the community’s bigger aspirations: more homes (therefore more affordable homes), a higher-density development, more desirable public spaces including a new park, better connectivity, less vehicular traffic, and more value and profit for investors.

Two weeks ago, following an extended period of public consultation, Camden planners recommended our order be approved.

This is no small milestone. It marks an extraordinary achievement by a community disingenuously labelled by the former Mayor of London and current Foreign Secretary as “bourgeois NIMBYs”. It marks also a significant victory for the many local communities across the country that have been held in contempt by public officials and marginalised by a planning system that has been systematically undermined by big business, starved of essential resources from central government and corrupted by private interests.

Despite all this work and incalculable effort, the fate of the site ultimately rests with Royal Mail and who they choose to sell it to. They know we are very keen to buy it and the approval of our order will allow us to get started quickly. The alternatives – building a redundant scheme or going back to the drawing board – would be a blow for the community, for Londoners and for the taxpayer.

Whatever the outcome, prospective buyers should be aware that the local community has become a Neighbourhood Forum and will soon be publishing a Neighbourhood Plan. This will give the community statutory powers and a legal status in the planning process. The slightest alteration to the current permission would involve negotiating with the very people that the RMG and their consultants strategically chose to ignore at the start of this process.

Mount Pleasant has come to represent all that is wrong with development in recent years, but how times have changed. It is not too late for the prospects of this precious site to change too, delivering more homes and better public amenities so that it can meet the needs of everyone long-term, not just the few, now.

Postscript:

Edward Denison is a lecturer at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Alexandra Steed is founder of Alexandra Steed Urban. They are both members of the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood Forum.

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