The Independent London Newspaper
23rd April 2017

High price of civic duty

    Alan Spence

    Alan Spence

    Published: 24 November, 2016

    TWO people – one of them 90 years old – driven by the highest sense of public duty, are now facing financial penalties for their troubles.

    Both of them challenged Camden Council over its controversial proposal to build a 25-storey residential block in Somers Town by trying to set in motion a judicial review hearing.

    They faced a six-week legal deadline to present their case, which ends tomorrow (Friday).

    And facing Alan Spence now is a hefty legal bill of several thousand  pounds covering the arguments presented to the Town Hall.  

    But if either want to take the next step, which is a further set of arguments to go before a High Court judge for an assessment of their case, they would then face even higher bills costing another several thousand pounds.

    When I spoke to them – Alan Spence, aged 90 of Bloomsbury, and Slaney Devlin, chairwoman of the Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum – on Tuesday they were both studying the council’s response to their arguments which had only just arrived. Their own lawyers had not yet had time to reach an opinion on the council’s case. After glancing at the council’s case – which essentially was a rejection of their arguments – the two civic-minded citizens seemed to feel they faced a big mountain – perhaps too big – to climb.  

    So far Alan Spence has spent his own savings, while the Neighbourhood Forum case put before the lawyers had to go under Slaney Devlin’s name, making her responsible in law for their costs.

    Though she felt it “scary” she thought a crowdfunding campaign could raise sufficient funds to cover the next stage of the case. Is this not a strange topsy-turvy world where the individual citizen is expected to pay out of her or his own pocket in any battle against large bureaucratic machines?

    Surely, if lawyers believe there is a case to answer the legal costs should be indemnified by the government.

    Alan Spence’s case against the project turns principally on the failure by planners to provide additional health facilities in a large area served only by a small GP practice.

    Slaney Devlin mainly argues the skyscraper is too big and too tall and would take away valuable open space – it is also opposed by a plethora of amenity bodies including the Victorian Society, the Georgian Group, English Heritage, Camden Civic Society and various conservation organisations.

    The Town Hall says by developing a skyscraper of luxury flats it will be able to rebuild nearby Edith Neville junior school as well as smaller blocks providing around 40 low-rent flats. It is backed by the London Mayor and the government.

    But Slaney Devlin believes – controversially – that the costs of the newly enlarged Edith Neville school should be covered by the redevelopment of the neighbouring new King’s Cross site, which is expected to provide hundreds of new family homes.

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