Planning firm Richard Buxton and Richard Harwood of 39 Essex Street have presented a series of challenges to the 2002 planning consents for the 15-floor office building.
A pre-action letter was sent to Tower Hamlets Council last week on behalf of Spitalfields Market Under Threat (Smut), which has made a £750 down payment for preliminary legal work. The council has 14 days to respond. Proceedings would then have to be brought by 19 February.
Also involved are Norton Rose for the Spitalfields Development Group, Nabarro Nathanson for Hammerson, Clifford Chance for the City of London Corporation and Linklaters for A&O.
Nabarro Nathanson partner Martin Evans, for Hammerson, said: “We’ve looked at it [the letter]. We’re not surprised it’s been submitted, but the points are frivolous, inaccurate and of no consequence.”
In 2000 a legally aided judicial review quashed amended plans which tried to turn the 1997 Liffe scheme into an office development. The developers have since had to promote a fresh planning application with an environmental impact assessment.
Smut now alleges that the council did not properly publicise the revised environmental statement and further material on the scheme, as required by 1999 regulations, and understated figures on the increase of floorspace in the 2002 scheme. It also alleges breaches of planning and listed building consent. Consent for the demolition of the 1928 building, which has started, hinged on acceptable replacement buildings being provided. However, the support building previously proposed for that part of the site has not been retained in the A&O scheme.
“The contract was therefore a sham as there was no intention to erect the support building,” the letter states.
Smut campaigner Jil Cove said: “We’re hoping that this actually helps the Corporation of London and the developers realise how serious we are about protecting the whole of Spitalfields Market. We want the market to act as a buffer between us and the City. We’re saying, ‘Go and build your big buildings somewhere else’. We have no argument with A&O. They have been smoothed and sweetened into taking the letting.”
An A&O spokesman said: “We’re very relaxed that any judicial review application must be brought by 19 February, and we’re looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring.”
The government is reviewing how the court system deals with competition issues, but is unlikely to go for a dedicated competition court – the solution favoured by some members of the judiciary