The council planning committee was set to approve Persimmon Homes’ plans for the site on 13 April but the DETR served an Article 14 order only two hours before it was due to sit.
An Article 14 planning directive stops local authorities from proceeding with developments without the approval of the secretary of state.
Wandsworth’s planning chairman, Ravi Govindia, described the last-minute intervention as “outrageous”.
“The government is constantly telling councils it wants to see inner-city brownfield sites like this developed for new housing and employment. The Shell site is a classic brownfield site – it was an oil storage facility for decades and has been lying vacant and abandoned ever since,” he said.
Persimmon Homes’ regional chairman David Bryant added: “We supposedly have a democratic process. But a government body sits on the sidelines and with no referral or communication serves an Article 14.”
Neither the council nor Persimmon knows why the scheme has been called in.
At the same planning meeting, a development by Rialto London at nearby Gargoyle Wharf, Battersea, was given the go-ahead, having been previously blocked by the government.
The original scheme, designed by Foster and Partners, was withdrawn and a different scheme, designed by Broadway Malyan, was put forward. by the developer.
Local MP Martin Linton, who opposed the Gargoyle development, said: “Developers need to know where they stand. At present, they don’t know what is happening.”
The Shell site has a history of delays. An original plan was submitted in December 1996 but the DETR called this in in October 1997. On this occasion, the Article 14 was served three hours before the council’s planning meeting. Clearance from the secretary of state was then refused in June 1998 following a public inquiry.
Persimmon Homes brought in Assael Architecture to redesign the development. Social housing was included and the number of apartments to be built was reduced, as was the height of the development.
The DETR declined to comment but a government spokesperson said: “An Article 14 was imposed on Thursday 13 April. Guidelines say the process should take 13 weeks.”
The scheme proposes 425 apartments, including 26% social housing and 16 000 m2 of commercial space with the potential for creating 500 jobs.