The payouts are said to include £12,000 to families living in neighbouring Phoenix Place, set to sit in the shadow of a new 15-storey residental tower, to stay silent about their loss of light when a planning application is submitted later this year.
But promised payouts have angered objectors to the development. The 6.8-acre site spans Camden and Islington boroughs and Julian Fulbrook, Camden’s cabinet member for housing, who is also a lawyer, says he is “amazed” at Royal Mail’s tactics.
“I think that it is rather underhand,” he says. “There are times when payments are made to residents but these are done as part of the planning process and not offered upfront like this. They are starting the game before the referee has blown the whistle.”
Other objectors include Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South & Finsbury who is also shadow attorney general, and local residents’ group the Mount Pleasant Forum. “It’s anti-democratic,” says Ms Thornberry.
Royal Mail could earn tens of millions of pounds for the site — once the world’s largest sorting office — if planning consent is forthcoming. It plans to retain a smaller sorting facility on site plus a mail museum.
Another key concern about the project is that only 12 per cent of the new homes will be affordable and aimed at hard-pushed first-time buyers and renters.
“They seem intent on extracting as much money from private housing as possible, and creating a private enclave,” says Mr Fulbrook, who points out that Camden generally expects 50 per cent of housing in schemes to be affordable.
Ms Thornberry says that until last October, the land was publicly owned. “There are 17,000 people on the housing waiting list in Islington and people born and bred here can’t afford to live here. We are not going to let… [Mount Pleasant] …become just more luxury flats.”
Royal Mail did not comment on specific cash sums. Its spokeswoman, Sally Hopkins, said the development would regenerate the area, creating jobs and hundreds of new homes.
“In cases where Royal Mail believes the proposed development may interfere with a property’s legal right to light, it has contacted some residents with a view to reaching a commercial settlement that is acceptable to both parties,” she says. “This is usual practice in property development across London and throughout the UK.”
Some locals claim those who take the money will then just sell up and go, and let the new residents cope with dark houses.