The Bishopsgate Goodsyard site is an unpromising advert for London’s supposedly vibrant development pipeline


Lurking just beyond the towers of the City of London, overgrown with weeds and spattered with graffiti, the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site is an unpromising advert for London’s supposedly vibrant development pipeline. Thanks to a neat dodge by Sadiq Khan’s predecessor, it is now also a somewhat inauspicious focal point of development under London’s new mayor.

Progress on the 4.4 hectare residential-led scheme was put on hold last month when Boris Johnson, at the request of the site’s developers Hammerson and Ballymore, deferred a planning verdict so they could address concerns raised by Greater London Authority officers, who, in a shock decision, recommended it be turned down. As a result, the site’s long history of conflict - which has taken in a poster campaign from the local council to whip up opposition, and three separate viability assessments - has a new chapter. The controversial project, lambasted for its height and affordability mix, among a string of other complaints, is now a test case for Khan’s approach to development in the capital, including his headline manifesto pledge to raise levels of affordable housing.

The developers and the mayor now seem to be engaged in a “blink first” test of nerve over the scheme. Hammerson and Ballymore have refused to outline a timeframe for their resubmitted application, or to explain the extent of planned changes. Presumably, and quite rightly, they are waiting for early indications from City Hall of how quickly and how rigidly the mayor’s tough stance on affordable housing, outlined in his manifesto, will apply in practice, as well as watching for signs of his attitude to other controversial issues such as height.

One of the first of those indications came this week in the form of Khan’s appointment of James Murray as his deputy mayor of housing. Murray, since 2010 Islington’s lead councillor for housing and development, is well-known for his tough stance on affordable housing, forcing developers to publish viability assessments and making Islington the first local authority to reject the coalition government’s plan to raise affordable rents.

Balanced against this have been fresh statements from City Hall since Khan’s appointment over the scale of work needed to meet the 50% affordable homes target in the mayor’s manifesto, with aides apparently trying to embed the message that this is a long-term target rather than a goal which will be enforced overnight. Even so, there is a big difference between 50% and the 16% currently slated for Bishopsgate, and Murray’s appointment sends a strong signal to the development market over the direction of Khan’s intentions.

Further, comments made by the mayor in relation to HS2 this week - suggesting the redevelopment of Euston station as a terminus for the rail project should be put on hold and trains halted at Old Oak Common in west London while a less disruptive scheme is drawn up - show that he is not afraid to slow the development of major projects if they interfere with his vision for the capital.

Khan’s HS2 intervention has been met with anger by the major landowner at Euston, Sydney & London Properties, which hit back by accusing him of slowing regeneration in order to duck controversy that might harm a re-election campaign.

But the inescapable political challenge for Khan is that his record will be judged both on the suitability of projects to London’s communities, and on the speed of delivery of urgent development needs across the capital as a whole - with vastly more housing and vastly upgraded infrastructure chief among them.

Where Khan sets the balance between these conflicting pressures will need to quickly be made clear if he is not to fall behind at the outset on the second challenge. With London’s population expanding on a daily basis, uncertainty among developers and a cooling of activity will prove even more unwelcome to the new mayor than the Bishopsgate headache gifted by his predecessor

Sarah Richardson, editor