Tufnell Park children protest against plans for Ocado depot next to their school

A large group of children took to the streets of Islington in protest over plans for a new Ocado depot next to their school.

The Planning Inspectorate has opened a hearing into the scheme proposed at Yerbury Primary School in Tufnell Park, for which the online supermarket has been battling for permission since 2019.

Tuesday’s protest was made up of around 30 of the school’s children, accompanied by their headteacher and several others from the ‘NOcado’ campaign, who marched to Islington Town Hall.

Ocado says the proposed distribution centre would be “the greenest and quietest grocery facility in the UK” and would create around 300 new jobs.

The row stretches back to 2019, after Islington Council granted the site’s landlord a “lawful development certificate”, but revoked it in 2020.

In 2021, a High Court judge threw out Ocado’s claim for judicial review of that decision, followed by a dismissal from the Court of Appeal. The council has since refused two further requests for the required certificate - the last of which Ocado has appealed with the Planning Inspectorate.

“We’re nearly five years into this ongoing, sorry saga,” said Fenella Grey, a parent at the school, adding that Tuesday’s march was “not just to show that we haven’t given up momentum”, but also to stop a “precedent being set”.

The NOcado campaign - which has won the support of film and theatre star Frances de la Tour - is calling nationally for a change in planning laws which would prevent similar distribution centres from being built within 400 metres of sites which house “vulnerable” groups like children or the elderly. Ms Grey cited schools or hospitals as key examples of those sites.

At its closest, Ocado’s new hub would be just three metres from the edge of the school building.

Ms Grey said: “It’s quite good timing, in the sense that there’s going to be a lot of planning reform going on, with potentially an incoming new Government.

Schoolchildren from Yerbury Primary School and local campaigners march 400-metres from Highbury Corner to Islington Town Hall (Jack Hall/PA Media Assignments)
Schoolchildren from Yerbury Primary School and local campaigners march 400-metres from Highbury Corner to Islington Town Hall (Jack Hall/PA Media Assignments)

“They [Labour] are saying that they’ll liberalise planning regulations, which is fine, but there’s a place for these intense distribution centres.”

Over the course of a four-day hearing from Tuesday until Friday this week, the Inspectorate will consider whether to overturn the council’s refusal of the project, potentially allowing it to go ahead. A decision is not expected to be issued any sooner than mid-August.

The hearing will examine the strength of evidence for whether the site was previously used for a similar purpose, meaning that the site would already have an “existing lawful use” as a depot.

Ocado argues there is “a very considerable body of evidence… that the warehouse building” to which the appeal relates “was used by BT as a storage depot for some 20 years between 1992 and 2013”.

The council rejected the evidence provided last year, calling it “unclear, confused” and “internally inconsistent”.

Schoolchildren from Yerbury Primary School and local campaigners protest outside Islington Town Hall (Jack Hall/PA Media Assignments)
Schoolchildren from Yerbury Primary School and local campaigners protest outside Islington Town Hall (Jack Hall/PA Media Assignments)

The NOcado campaign meanwhile argues that “an industrial site in the heart of a residential community, backing onto a school” is not an appropriate location for a working depot, and that a full planning application should be required in order for it to become one.

“Online shopping has gone up, we all know that,” said Ms Grey. “It’s intense, it’s 24/7, people expect it to be instant, more or less - so there’s consumer demand for it. It’s just that there’s got to be protections for communities over where they can be.”

An Ocado spokeswoman said: “Ocado is committed to having a positive impact on the local community.

“This would be the greenest and quietest grocery facility in the UK, and we have committed to using a 100 per cent electric delivery van fleet – replacing the vans that currently deliver in the area – and install a green ‘living wall’ along the boundary. It would also create around 300 new jobs for the local economy.”