Last night Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council voted through a policy which favoured having more tower blocks in the borough. The Draft Local Plan contained plenty of bogus excuses and weasly caveats. But had the Labour councillors troubled to read the report (which to be fair is 296 pages – in order to minimise the risk of such an eventuality) the upshot was clear.
It soothingly stated that the new tower blocks must be of “good design”. (When in the last few decades having planning officers recommended approval for a tower block they felt was of poor design?)
New tower blocks should be welcomed for “providing a distinctive recognisable landmark” – well that’s one way of putting it.
The report added that:
“Tall buildings may be appropriate within an employment centre in order to mark the location of the transport interchange…”
If you live outside a conservation area then Labour say you can get stuffed. Who cares if more tower blocks go up in Shepherd’s Bush, given the blight of tower blocks is so bad already: is effectively the policy that Labour has now endorsed:
“A limited number of tall buildings could be considered as part of the approach to urban design provided they are of exceptional design quality and do not have an unreasonable impact on nearby residential properties and where they are not considered to have a detrimental impact on the setting of listed buildings, the character and appearance of the Wood Lane conservation area, or the setting of other neighbouring conservation areas and the local area in general. Some other limited locations within the White City Regeneration Area may also be acceptable for tall buildings, as long as it can be demonstrated that they do not have a negative impact on the character and setting of Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas and the local area in general.”
On the same logic, why not have more tower blocks in West Kensington? “There may be scope for tall buildings in close proximity to the existing Empress State building…”
While for the South Fulham Riverside regeneration area, “taller buildings may be appropriate if it can be demonstrated that a tall building would be a key design element in a masterplan for regeneration and that it would have a positive relationship to the riverside.” Demonstrated to whose satisfaction that more tower blocks would “have a positive relationship to the riverside”?
Then there is Hammersmith Town Centre. Again Labour felt the problem was we just don’t have enough tower blocks:
“Hammersmith Town Centre has a number of existing tall buildings and further tall buildings of a similar height could be appropriate in some parts of the centre.”
But don’t worry the new tower blocks would have to “make a positive contribution to the skyline”. Of course for those who like tower blocks they do “make a positive contribution to the skyline.”
In my ward, of Ravenscourt Park, King Street is disfigured by the Premier Inn. An earlier proposal for the town hall redevelopment involved two 14 storey blocks of flat – that would have been equivalent to two more Premier Inns. The scheme had good points – demolishing the town hall extension and replacing the underpass with a footbridge over the A4. But damaging the skyline with two more Premier Inns was a huge disadvantage.
“Oh well – as we have already got one building that size it doesn’t matter if we have a couple more.”
Certainly the Labour councillors didn’t say that.
Labour’s support for tower blocks represents the most shameless of u-turns.
Before the election Cllr PJ Murphy of Hammersmith Broadway Ward said:
“It is criminal to blight Hammersmith’s skyline with high rise tower blocks.”
Cllr Stephen Cowan, who is now the council leader, wrote on his blog:
“New, ugly tower blocks detested by local residents. That’s hardly the right approach which is why my Labour colleagues and I will change that if the public vote us into office in 2014.”
I attended the Cabinet meeting last night and alerted its members to what they were voting through.
I questioned the planning officer presenting the report, Pat Cox. She confirmed that “tall buildings” did indeed mean tower blocks. (The report defines them as “those that are substantially taller than their neighbours and/or which significantly change the skyline.”)
She confirmed that the report did indeed mean allowing more of them in the borough.
So even if the Labour councillors hadn’t read the report (and judging by their faces I suspect they hadn’t) they did not have the excuse that they were unaware of what they were doing.
The policy was unanimously voted through.
Thus after six months, Labour rubber stamps a property developers charter.
No constraint that new buildings should be beautiful. At the same meeting Labour voted in favour of privatising the entire council housing stock – they want to transfer ownership to a housing association, meaning higher rents and fewer rights for tenants, and higher service charges for leaseholders. Labour is spraying £1.5 million of Council Taxpayers money at consultants and lawyers just to carry out the process.
The Cabinet also resolved to become completely dependent on further Section 106 payments to fund additional policing. Previously part of this cost came from general council funds. Now Labour are completely addicted to the property developers to continue with this funding.
Labour’s pledge for transparency over their dealings with property developers has already become a joke. They promised records of meetings to be made available. They have been carried out in the most cynical nominal way – recording nothing of substance.
Labour has rejected a proposal for audio recording of Planning Committee meetings to be made available on the Council’s website.
What a difference in just six months.
Having denounced the planning developers as class enemies just six months ago, Labour are holding secret meetings with them and allowing whatever eyesores are demanded.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.