Residents and developers clash at Highgate Bowl planning inquiry

Owners of a Highgate garden centre at the centre of a controversial planning application were intent on “maximising their profit” by selling it to property developers, an inquiry has heard.

The three day hearing is the latest stage in a fiercely fought battle by residents to protect a sloping outdoor plot, known as the Highgate Bowl, from developers who want to build three luxury homes on the sought-after land.

Capital Gardens has been operating from the prized outdoor space for 40 years.

It was claimed Capital Gardens had said the site behind Highgate High Street was no longer viable.

But this was challenged by Ilias Drivylas, an economist who advised Haringey Council.

He said: “No evidence has been shown that the current provision of a garden centre on this site is no longer commercially viable.

“I asked Capital Gardens, if you could sell the garden centre to another operator would you? The answer was that they wouldn’t sell the garden centre to another operator.

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“It was always their intention to maximise their profit by selling it for its property redevelopment potential.”

Haringey Council last year turned down the application from R&D Properties to build on the 11-acre plot, citing the failure of the exiting owners to provide evidence the site was not feasible as a business.

The developers are appealing the decision.

They argue the garden centre is unprofitable and that the proposed development has been “carefully designed by an architect with particular experience of designing new houses in this conservation area”.

But Mr Drivylas said no hard evidence had been given to back up claims the business was not viable in Highgate.

He said: “The starting position was that the site had been informally marketed for a number of years, but then it was established that it was never marketed or advertised.

“The appellant has stated that no jobs will be lost, but no details have been provided regarding where the jobs will be provided.

“Haringey has a high unemployment rate which is substantially over the national average.

“The safeguarding of all existing jobs is of paramount importance, especially given the current economic environment.”

Mary Cook, representing R&D Properties, said the Highgate site had “substantial disadvantages” for a business.

She said: “Why on earth should a businessman open up his books to the world and at the same time be expected to try and market that site.”

The three-day planning inquiry was set to finish today (Thursday, February 9) with residents due to make their case yesterday (Wednesday, February 8).