The Wormwood Scrubs skyline is still under threat

Tom Ryland, the Chairman of the Hammersmith Society emailed me recently about the threat of ugly development on a massive scale near Wormwood Scrubs:

Tom says:

“In my previous reports and in our April Newsletter, we have reported on what is happening in the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation. Since then there has been developments on two worrying proposals in the area, both of which fall within our Borough boundaries. The first is the Oaklands site being promoted by Genesis Housing in conjunction with QPR. This proposal involves 611 new housing units and 27 storey and 17 storey towers on the western side of the OPDC area near Old Oak Common Lane/Wells House Road. This was the OPDC’s first major planning application and it unfortunately coincided with the consultation on the Draft Local Plan, so that many local residents and groups including ours were distracted and did not formally comment on the proposals : Our Council was consulted on the scheme and its Planning and Development Control Committee roundly condemned the proposals (Read minutes on Council website). Despite this, the scheme was initially put forward by the OPDC on its Planning Committee Agenda for 28th April with a recommendation for approval. As one of the first major schemes to be put forward, it looked like a worrying precedent. Fortunately, thanks to pressure from our Council and the efforts of Henry Peterson, Amanda Souter and others, the scheme was withdrawn for further consideration. Part of the problem seemed to be administrative teething problems at OPDC but the real problem is that this is an over large and rather boring development.

“The second is a development proposal on the eastern side of the OPDC area adjacent Mitre Bridge and Kensal Rise Cemetery in Scrubs Lane is 183 housing units. Members of the Hammersmith Society were invited to a presentation of the proposals and there were also public exhibitions held locally. Despite the OPDC’s guidelines for these ‘fringe site’ being 8 – 11 storeys, the developers and their architects, Allies and Morrison are proposing another 25 storey tower which will substantially overshadow the Listed cemetery and being very visible from Wormwood Scrubs and the Canal : Not only is the height extreme, but the density is excessive, considerably exceeding the London Plans maximum density figures. The scheme is still at pre-application stage and we shall be objecting to the proposals.”

In the earlier newsletter he referred to he says:

“The OPDC was set up in April 2015 and is likely to exist for about 30 years until the development is complete. Since the last Newsletter the Opportunity Area Planning Framework (OAPF) has been formally adopted, and the planning team set up; this has now assembled a draft Local Plan with all its statutory framework and consultations. Members of your committee extensively involved this, requiring a huge amount of work.

This huge project based around the intersection of Crossrail/HS2, other railway lines and the Grand Union Canal is set to be London’s largest project with 25,500 new homes and up to 65,000 jobs claimed. This is the equivalent of a complete new town and all that implies. The main station alone will be one of the largest in the country handling over 250,000 passengers per day. There are also two other new stations and major rebuilding of others including Willesden Junction. The cost of providing the infrastructure and decontamination of the land will be enormous – but who pays?

Although there are many commendable aspects to these ambitious proposals, we are questioning whether the housing and employment targets can be provided at a human scale.

Will it be an exciting, rewarding and original place for those that will live and work there?

How can it be sympathetically incorporate the existing local communities?

We believe the above targets, which could probably only be achieved with towers of 40 – 50 storeys, came before any real design work had been carried out, and need to be reviewed.

There is a lot of good will and energy coming from the community and a wish to create a great place. Are the political ambitions in terms of housing and employment too great? We urge the new mayor to review the OPDC proposals as a matter of priority.”

It is a great pity that Zac Goldsmith was not elected as Mayor of London – as he would have adopted an anti tower blocks policy and instead favoured attractive development following the agenda of Create Streets. A report for Savills concludes that low rise means higher density than high rise. But let’s suppose that in the case of Old Oak that does not apply and that Tom is right to say that the height is excessive because the density is excessive. Even then the most effective way of getting new homes built and easing the chronically constrained housing supply is for the homes the attractive and on a human scale. If new homes means making the neighbourhood hideous there will always be resistance to building new homes. Thus there is delay and sometimes nothing gets built at all and derelict land remains derelict.

Actually the problem with Tom (himself an architect) is that he is too soft on whole OPDC endeavour with his constant demands for “excitement”. Brutalist architecture does not claim to be attractive but “exciting”. Excitement is not always a good thing. War is exciting, bank robbery is exciting, being told that you must undertake a life threatening operation is exciting.

If the message to the planning officers and developers is to come back with a more “exciting” design then I would caution that we should be careful what we wish for…

One thought on “The Wormwood Scrubs skyline is still under threat

  1. If you are going to build sky-piercing tower blocks to house yet more UK citizens, it is probably better to do it in one place, to limit the damage, rather than dot isolated shards all around the capital as is the current fashion. Perhaps Old Oak can perform a noble sacrifice by morphing into an architectural dystopia of 40-storey towers, and save the rest of London from them.

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