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Gove throws out Desmond's £1bn printworks plan

22 Nov 21 The government has decided to block a £1bn redevelopment of Westferry Printworks in east London after all.

Design by PLP Architecture
Design by PLP Architecture

Michael Gove, secretary of state for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities & Local Government, has agreed with the recommendations of the second inquiry into the scheme and turned down the planning application from magazine magnate Richard Desmond.

Westferry Printworks was the largest printing works in Europe until it moved in 2011, leaving a 15-acre site ripe for redevelopment. Mace was Desmond’s development manager pushing forward the scheme to build housing.

It has since been a lightning rod of political controversy.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets initially refused Desmond planning permission. He appealed, a public local inquiry was held in 2019, the planning inspector recommended against the scheme, but the then housing and planning secretary of state Robert Jenrick took his own path and decided to approve it.

Jenrick signed it off just a day before new council infrastructure levy (CIL) would have cost Desmond an extra £45m – and soon after the two men had sat next to each other at a Carlton Club fundraising dinner for the Conservative Party. Two weeks later Desmond gave the Conservative Party £12,000,

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Faced with the inevitable political stink, Jenrick agreed to a second look and reopened the enquiry in May 2021.  He was sacked in a Cabinet reshuffle in September and replaced with Michael Gove, who has decided to agree with the recommendations of the second report. The design by PLP Architecture is an eyesore that doesn’t meet design standards, he said. “The secretary of state considers that overall, the appeal scheme does not reflect local design policies or government guidance on design,” the letter setting out his reasoning explains.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “The council is pleased that after many months and two public inquiries, both the inspector and the secretary of state agree that the scheme should be refused permission. Today’s decision supports the council’s view that the proposed scheme was inappropriate for the site in both scale and height, would significantly impact important heritage sites and failed to maximise affordable housing and family-sized homes. In all, it was a bad deal for our borough and we are satisfied with today’s outcome.”

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