Chairman’s Report 2023

The Society has had another successful year, though in some respects a turbulent one. Despite what you may have read in the media, the perceived demand for office space in the southern part of the borough has resulted in a succession of major planning applications which have occupied much of the committee’s energies. At the same time, we have been able to organise a good number of visits and open meetings, all of which have been well and appreciatively attended.

We have tried hard to resist pressure from developers for excessively tall buildings. We have no objection to tall buildings as such, provided they are appropriate to their situation. The Council’s Local Plan, finally adopted in recent weeks and which we have scrutinized with care, is specific as to the appropriate sites and zones where tall buildings are to be allowed, and the height to which they may be built. It is depressing, therefore, that a 150-metre tower at 99 City Road (the Inmarsat building on the Old Street roundabout), has been waved through by the planning committee in defiance of the Local Plan guidelines. We fear that this will set a precedent for the height of buildings in that area, notably the planned redevelopment of the Moorfields hospital site. It was perhaps inevitable that there would eventually be an encroachment from the City of London on the Old Street area, and urban renewal there is welcome, but tall buildings are by definition highly visible and liable to have an unwelcome impact on other parts of the borough. More alarmingly, we have watched with apprehension proposals for a student accommodation tower on the Holborn Infirmary site at the bottom of Highgate Hill, which would not only contravene the Local Plan but also sightline restrictions for the city in general.

Although these developments are hard to resist, especially given that pre-application consultations developers have with planners apparently represent a presumption of planning approval, it is good to note that we are regularly consulted by the developers’ agents on such applications and members of the committee have had a number of meetings with them to discuss their proposals and air our concerns. 

As to events, we opened the year with a visit to the London Metropolitan Archives, an invaluable resource perhaps little known, and followed this with three successful open meetings – a talk by the Council tree officers, a presentation by Committee member James Dunnett on housing policy over the past 150 years, and a discussion of planning policy and strategies from the developers’ perspective which clarified, if it did not entirely reassure, how developers work with the planning authorities. And, to complete the year, we have a talk scheduled for 27th November by the architect Gavin Hale-Brown on the current issues around retrofitting and net zero as they affect listed buildings and conservation areas. Not to mention James Dunnett’s organization of a summer visit to Copped Hall in Essex, a successful conservation project for a dilapidated Georgian mansion deserving to be better known.

If we seem to have had an excessive focus on planning this year, it is worth remembering that we are represented on the London Forum, the umbrella group for London amenity societies, and on our two Town Centre bodies at Angel and the Nag’s Head. Both of these are influential organisations protecting the prosperity of local businesses and the interests of residents. And reflecting our commitment to civic affairs we have been proud once again to be one of the lead sponsors of the Islington in Bloom awards this year.  

We were dismayed to lose the services of our treasurer Michael Gwinnell early this year, first to acute illness and then to his sad death. Michael in his brief tenure handled our financial affairs, notably the implementation of online banking facilities, with characteristic efficiency. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to appoint Patrick Green from among our friends at solicitors Colman Coyle to take his place.

In other respects, your committee has remained unchanged. In the summer we felt it desirable to try to increase its size and, if possible, enlist younger members able to share the work of the committee more fairly. As you will shortly hear, three members came forward and have been co-opted. At this
AGM, however, we are saying farewell to David Trillo, who has decided to concentrate on other things after thirteen years as our exemplary secretary. One of our new co-opted members Paul Thurlow has valiantly offered to take his place.  

You will also hear that financially the Society remains in good shape, and I am happy to propose that for yet another year there will be no increase in our subscription rates.  

I remain extremely grateful for the loyal support we enjoy from our membership, which remains numerically stable at around 250, and from our excellent and versatile committee members.

Peter Kilborn
November 2023