City of London considers acquisition of land to solve Goldman Sachs HQ rights of light dispute

Out-Law News | 23 Sep 2014 | 5:09 pm | 1 min. read

The City of London Corporation is considering taking legal steps to protect investment firm Goldman Sachs (GS) from injunctions that would prevent it from proceeding as planned with the development of its proposed new headquarters in central London.

The Corporation granted planning permission in October 2013 for the proposed demolition of existing buildings in and around Plumtree Court in EC4 and the construction of an eight-storey, 850,000 square feet flexible office building. The proposed development has been found to affect rights of light enjoyed by 14 owners of neighbouring properties.

While GS has reached agreement to compensate 11 of the affected owners, two have indicated that they are not willing to accept GS' offer of £1.2 million each in compensation, and have argued that they ought to receive a share of the developer's profits if the design of the proposed building is not amended to avoid affecting their rights.

GS has requested that the Corporation makes use of rights under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA), through which councils can acquire an interest in land for planning purposes and use it to facilitate development that will benefit the local area, notwithstanding the resulting interference with existing rights. The two landowners whose rights were affected would be entitled to compensation for the reduction in the value of their properties as a result of the development.

The request was due to be discussed at a meeting of the Corporation's planning and transportation committee this morning. A report (14-page / 175 KB PDF) prepared for the meeting, from the chief planning officer and comptroller and City solicitor (CPO), recommended that the committee's members approve the acquisition of an interest in the redevelopment site in order to facilitate the development, and "the subsequent disposal of [the] interest to the owners".

The CPO considered that the development could not go ahead without affecting the rights of light. Altering the size and shape of the proposed building to avoid blocking light to neighbouring properties would "not be acceptable in design terms" and would result in "a substantial loss in floor space", the CPO said.  

The report said Corporation officers were of the opinion that "the developer has acted reasonably in agreeing to pay compensation of £1.2m" and that "it does not appear that the development can proceed without the engagement of [the TCPA provision]". The CPO considered that the proposed development would improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the City, through the provision of office space, employment opportunities and improvements to the public realm.

Recommending the approval of the acquisition, the CPO said that "the public interest in facilitating the development outweighs the rights of the individuals to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions and that the use of [TCPA] powers amounts to a proportionate interference in all the circumstances".