Covent Garden: A Model for Protection of Special Character


By Raymond Cooper and Teige O’Donovan

Raymond Cooper is head of commercial property services at London solicitors Farrer & Co. and Teige O’Donovan is a barrister and solicitor with Farrer specialising in planning law and environment.

Is the planning system adequate to protect the special character of areas of particular and possibly unique architectural, historic and economic interest against unrestrained market forces? Fortunately for Covent Garden, in the centre of London, local amenity groups and the London Residuary Body agreed in 1988 that it was not. The result was the formation of the Covent Garden Area Trust and the creation of a unique ownership structure the effectiveness of which in preventing inappropriate development notwithstanding approval by the local planning authority has been more than adequately demonstrated over the 10 years of the Trust’s life.

Both of the authors have been involved in providing legal advice to the Trust, one of them from its inception. Two events suggest that this is a good opportunity for the Trust’s experience to be shared: the Trust’s success last year in opposing at arbitration a major development which the Trust felt would have adverse consequences for Covent Garden’s special character notwithstanding that consent had been granted by the City of Westminster, and the Trust’s tenth anniversary. The authors feel that the general structure adopted to protect Covent Garden could be a model for the protection of other areas of special character from commercial exploitation in a manner nonetheless enabling the realisation of full commercial value. It is hoped that this descriptive analysis of the Trust may provide those responsible for areas of special (or potentially special) character with some technical ideas to give substance to their aspirations.

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