Gazette letters: Outdoor gym, planning committee, constituency boundaries and Bi Visibility Day

The 'Guantanamo orange' outdoor gym (Picture: Karen Rowe)

The 'Guantanamo orange' outdoor gym (Picture: Karen Rowe) - Credit: Karen Rowe

In 2010 Arundel Square Garden reopened with a sophisticated, award winning design, write Karen and Allan Rowe, Arundel Square.

It has been difficult to sustain the quality of the garden due to budget cuts. Last week the parks department began installing an open air gym in “Guantanamo orange” that has horrified some neighbours. The consultation saw opposition from the Arundel Square Gardening Group, which works voluntarily to sustain the quality of the garden. They feel the parks department is failing in its own “commitment to communicat[e] to groups openly and clearly and be able to justify actions”. We ask the department to stop the installation.

The use by the council of the Archway Premier Inn to house the homeless (front page, “MBE left homeless for 6 months”, Gazette, September 8) was raised at last week’s planning committee, writes Meg Howarth, Ellington Street, Islington.

A proxy application had been submitted on behalf of Whitbread plc, owner of the budget-chain – and Costa Coffee – to build yet another hotel development on the former NCP car park in Farringdon Road.

Recommended for approval by planning officers, the scheme was unanimously rejected by councillors as a breach of the local Finsbury Plan (FLP). It contained no housing, despite falling within the FLP area identified as needing 700 new homes. Whitbread had submitted a get-out report – aka a Financial Viability Assessment (FVA) – that claimed that a whopping minimum 17.5 per cent profit-on-cost mark-up was needed to develop the Clerkenwell site, making the provision of affordable housing impossible.

The irony – or cynicism – of being unwilling to provide permanent homes while readily taking taxpayers’ money to house the statutorily homeless, as at Archway, completely bypassed the company’s spokesman.

How much of Whitbread’s revenue-stream – more than £2.9bn in 2015/16 – comes from renting rooms to cash-strapped local authorities, as in Islington, is unknown. What is clear is its NCP application sought to exploit the proximity of Farringdon Road to publicly funded Crossrail at Farringdon station, both of which lie in the so-called Central Activities Zone (CAZ).

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As developers argue for exclusively business and employment projects, which the zone promotes, the CAZ is leading to the hollowing out of the area for new homes. Nearby 119 Farringdon Road, site of the first council housing in England, is now an offshore-owned office-letting development under construction. The council must resist a central London for the better-off only.

Though outside the remit of planning officers and councillors, a worrying aspect of the NCP application was the lack of transparency of the proxy applicant’s company structure. A form increasingly common among developers, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) had been set up by the proxy’s parent which, along with the parent and three other SPVs, are registered in Liverpool at a letter-box-drop address shared with over 80 other firms. The parent’s webpage all the while boasts a Savile Row address. Such structures are of legitimate public interest when, as in this case, the developer was hoping to exploit taxpayer-funded infrastructure. As the proxy stated openly on its website: “This vibrant and improving area [Clerkenwell] will benefit further from the opening of Crossrail in 2018.”

Islington is to be congratulated on leading the way in opening FVAs to public scrutiny, previously hidden from view by the widespread use of the nefarious “commercial confidentiality” clause.

We refer to your September 15 report on the proposed new constituency boundaries for Islington, write Florence and Ivor Kenna, Compton Street, Clerkenwell.

If the City of London were added to the Islington South and Finsbury Constituency there would be little need to tinker with Islington’s constituency boundaries.

Tomorrow (Fri) Islington Council will be flying the bisexual flag to celebrate Bi Visibility Day, writes Cllr Aysegul Erdogan, Islington Council.

Celebrated internationally since 1999, the day celebrates bisexuality as a distinct part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and raises awareness of the issues caused by biphobia.

Islington has a proud history of fighting for social justice and equality, which is why it is so important to show our support to members of the bisexual community. We are committed to tackling discrimination in all forms, and as the council’s equalities champion, I want to encourage tolerance in our diverse borough. Islington has always been at the heart of London’s LGBT history.

any key events took place here, from the UK’s first gay rights demonstration on Highbury Fields in 1970 and the first Gay Pride March in 1971 on Upper Street.