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A small Cambridge firm has outwitted Norton Rose's planning department and delayed plans for a controversial multi-million-pound commercial development in Spitalfields Market.
Local residents, using solicitors Richard Buxton, hindered the developers. The firm instructed silk Patrick Clarkson QC and planning junior Richard Harwood of 1 Serjeants' Inn, whose final draft forced Tower Hamlets Council to withdraw from the judicial review into the High Court application. The decision was made after it became apparent that the developers had converted trading floor space intended for Liffe into office space.
Susan Ring of Richard Buxton says: "It was always a strong case, but it became even clearer when we discovered that the developer hadn't told residents or the council that they had reclassified this enormous space from plant to office."
Tower Hamlets accepted that the exact use had not been identified. Council legal head Bob Capstick says: "The total amount of office space in the report showed 3,641m2 when it was in fact 17,000m2, and part of the application received in the submission of details document was used in the committee report for members, which was approved."
The submission of details was provided by Norton Rose's planning team, which consisted of head Brian Greenwood, Mark Chalice and Jane Burgess. The firm instructed Guy Roots QC and Michael Druce of Michael Fitzgerald's 2 Mitre Court Buildings for developer Spitalfields Development Group (SDG), and Craig Howell-Williams from Gerard Ryan QC's 2 Harcourt Buildings for landowners City Corporation.
Chalice and Druce attended the committee meeting when Tower Hamlets approved the amended Liffe plans, but omitted that it was now office rather than plant space.
Norton Rose represents both the City of London Corporation and joint venture SDG, which consists of SPP Investment Management (formerly Let), Metacorp Berhad (formerly Costain) and Balfour Beatty. Legal fees are now around £100,000, but Greenwood is optimistic despite the delay. He says: "There are three or four reserve matter applications based on the outline consent from the original Liffe project."
SDG chief executive Mike Bear says: "We have a robust case. [The decision] will cause a glitch for a couple of months, and hopefully our applications will be bomb-proof." It is likely that any revised scheme will be subject to further judicial review proceedings.
SDG is using Norton Rose for planning advice but Clifford Chance for all other matters. Clifford Chance partner Jonathan Solomon, a Norton Rose partner until last summer, is advising on lease arrangements that could include Norton Rose and Allen & Overy.