Holborn Studios saved from "total destruction" by planning committee

Holborn Studios on the Regent's Canal. Picture: Jason Joyce

Holborn Studios on the Regent's Canal - Credit: Jason Joyce

Yesterday evening (March 10), cheers broke out after a Hackney Council planning committee took steps to reject an application which would result in the "total destruction" of Holborn Studios.

Holborn Studios is a film and photography overlooking Regent's Canal.

It is the largest of its kind in Europe and has been dubbed the "Abbey Road of photography".

The studio is the main occupant of the Eagle Wharf Road site which sits in Hackney, on the border of Islington. 

While Hackney's planning officer recommended the planning application be approved, councillors on the planning sub-committee spoke of the schemes short-comings outweighing its benefits. 

The application was submitted by GHL Eagle Wharf Road Limited, a company made up of several developers, including Galiard Homes. 

Managing director of the studios, Billy McCartney, said the application was a "severe downgrade" on two previous proposals that were approved by planning sub-committees but later quashed at the High Court

Two judicial reviews were upheld by the court, and, in the most recent in 2020 case Judge Mr Justice Dove found the council’s planning code lawful.

However, he said its practice of not allowing members of the public to write to committee members was not.

Both reviews have cost the council at least £135,000 in legal bills

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Several key concerns were raised at the meeting.

These included, no affordable housing or play areas as well as the scheme under delivering on a target of 60 per cent employment space, providing 54.2pc instead. 

The quality of the 50 units of housing up for private sale was also questioned. 

Cllr Clare Joseph called an off-site affordable housing contribution of £157,823, down from £757,076 in previous plans, "poultry". 

Holborn Studios, Eagle Wharf Road, Hackney. Picture: Isabel Infantes

Holborn Studios has been on Eagle Wharf Road for 35 years - Credit: Archant

Although the proposal would provide more employment space for studios and other similar uses, committee members were critical of the lack of light in the basement areas of buildings. 

In assessing the scheme, Cllr Katie Hanson, said: "We often say it falls short here but it makes up for it over here with these other benefits, and what I'm not seeing tonight is the other benefits that make up for these shortfalls."

One of the objectors, planning consultant Kieran Hodgson, was at the meeting on behalf of Holborn Studios. 

He said: "These proposals do not reflect your current policies, they don’t respond to your latest local plan and they don’t achieve the very high bar members have rightly set for good development."

He also stated that the amount of space for commercial use was "effectively a foil to justify planning permission for a large number of expensive flats."

Meanwhile, planning officer Barry Coughlan explained how the floorspace was under target to add additional cycle parking, and for energy and sustainability purposes. 

In regards to Holborn Studios, he acknowledged the studios as a "valuable cultural asset" and told the committee: "While the new floorspace to be provided might not necessary meet the specific operational requirements of Holborn Studios.

"Its design in nature does not preclude the occupation of the space by another similar cultural occupier."

The planning officer noted a "key benefit" of the proposed development as affordable work space provision in perpetuity, with 11.5pc of commercial workspace at 60pc market rates. 

He said the plans did not include affordable housing as the site is in a priority office area.

Before a motion was put forward to refuse the application, Mr Hodgson said the plans would result in the "total destruction of the studios":

"Holborn studios have been in this location for 35 years and are responsible almost entirely for the creation and curation of this particular par of Hackney which is cherished so locally.

"The studios deliver many jobs creative hub, internationally recognised centre of excellence for photography within the creative arts."

A legal officer will draw up a report outlining the reasons for refusal of the application and the same committee members will vote at the next meeting on April 6.