The Council must come clean on its Capco negotiations

In November a letter was delivered to residents on the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates from the council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan. It wasn’t from the Labour Party but was an official Council communication – and therefore subject to the rules from the Local Government Publicity Code for accuracy and impartiality. It concerned the Capco proposals for the Earls Court redevelopment.

The letter said:

“My colleagues and I have been negotiating hard to either get the estates back or radically improve the deal and secure new like-for-like homes for all our residents on the two estates.

“Capco’s latest proposal is to develop a new Masterplan for the Earls Court scheme.  If that gets planning permission we would see the two estates return to council control. 

“There are many steps towards finalising this agreement but I wanted to let you know as soon as possible about what’s happening.”

This could be good news. For example I have written about a popular and beautiful alternative to Capco’s plans for Empress Place. On the other hand simply maintaining the (ugly) status quo on the estates would be a missed opportunity – just as the current (ugly) Capco plans are.

Would “council control” mean leaving the buildings as they are? The letter is unclear.

Naturally opinions will differ whatever emerges. Which is fine – but I wish it could be more friendly, open and honest. For years there have been bitter divisions and political exploitation. Secrecy has allowed scaremongering to flourish.

Once Cllr Cowan and Capco have concluded “finalising the agreement” will residents (tenants and leaseholders) be given a veto? Would such a ballot be a three way choice between the estates staying as they are, the current Capco proposal or whatever revised proposal emerges? The letter doesn’t say. Yet if Cllr Cowan thinks he’s come up with something that “radically improves” the deal then why would be be afraid of checking if the residents agree?

If we try to find out more the Capco website says nothing about any changes. The TRAs – who are led by staunch opponents of the current Capco plans – are very pleased by the prospect of change. But they don’t seem to have much detail either.

Never mind. Perhaps we can look to the Council’s website to see if we can find the full story there. It used to say in the Transparency section:

“Minutes of meetings between councillors and developers. We now publish notes of all our meetings with developers – no secret discussions!”

Those words have been removed. Instead it just says: “Meetings between developers and councillors”.

Nothing is included about Capco.

Why not? The Council’s Monitoring Officer tells me:

“I can now confirm that the meetings with Capco, regarding the potential return of the West Ken and Gibbs Green Estates to council control, took place with officers under the existing Conditional Land Sale Agreement arrangements, in consultation with the Leader. It would therefore be inappropriate to minute these on the council’s website.  The Leader has been kept informed on progress of negotiations throughout.”

So Cllr Cowan’s letter was false when he told residents: “I have been negotiating hard.” He hasn’t been negotiating hard or soft – he’s just been “kept informed” of how others have been getting on with the negotiating. The previous claim on the Council’s website – “We now publish notes of all our meetings with developers – no secret discussions!” – was still pretty misleading even if it was the officials doing the negotiating rather than the councillors. So it was right that the Council removed those words given they did not reflect the reality.

But it wouldn’t it be better still for Capco and the Council to be open about what they are planning? Wouldn’t there be a better chance of a deal being popular – and therefore sustainable – if all residents have the chance to comment at an early stage?

Ugly office block plan for Wellesley Avenue rejected

I was pleased that last night Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Planning and Development Control Committee rejected a proposal for an ugly office block in Wellesley Avenue.

The overbearing development would also have been harmful to residents in Dorville Crescent and have had a negative impact on the character of the conservation area.

Planning officers had recommended rejection and my only criticism was that they should have been more emphatic in doing so.

For instance it said of 14 Wellesley Avenue that the “timber cladding on the front elevation is not in keeping with the character and appearance of the conservation area.”

We can all sneer at “mock Tudor”. The building is rather idiosyncratic in the context of the local area. But the point is that the proposed replacement would be awful. So that would be a bad swap. Give me mock Tudor!

With regard to traffic the planning officers said:

“Regarding visitors to the office use it is considered that due to the good public transport accessibility in this location, people would be likely to use transport methods other than a private car to visit the site and therefore the proposal is unlikely to generate any increase in parking pressure or cause conditions detrimental to traffic conditions. “

Come off it.

The office would have 200 people and so there would be a lot more traffic – with all the couriers, Uber taxis, Amazon deliveries, etc.

That would be bad for local schools – with air pollution and congestion during the school run for those children dropped off.

The traffic caused by the existing workshop is very modest – they take in perhaps three cars a week. Also cars are currently parked in the garage, but in future all cars would be on the street.

By all means let’s have a change of use for the workshop – but it should be for new (but traditional) housing. That is what is needed rather than more offices.

Brackenbury Residents Association said the proposed scheme was “alien” and added:

“We value the benefits of mixed use within residential areas, but we consider this application would introduce the wrong mix, creating an inappropriate design for the street, an inappropriate commercial presence, and an insensitive neighbour to the existing houses.”

New developments don’t have to be unattractive. But all too often they are. Local residents and I left the meeting last night to allow the Committee to proceed with its work – remorselessly approving schemes to make our borough less and less beautiful.

But at least we had our victory:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ 
We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

 

Public consultation opens on Thursday for the Town Hall redevelopment

After the fiasco of the demolition of the cinema a public consultation opens on Thursday (9 November 2017) on the Council’s new proposals to redevelop Hammersmith Town Hall and immediately-surrounding area of King Street.

Public consultation events will take place on:

Thursday 9 November from 4pm to 8pm
Saturday 11 November from 10am to 2pm

Both events will be held at Hammersmith Town Hall in King Street.

I have asked what alternative design (if any) will be offered to residents to the one to be produced by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners….

UPDATE

The panels with the awful new proposals are here.

Update on King Street cinema site

The Council are remaining pretty secretive regarding fiasco of the Town Hall redevelopment scheme – which was abandoned after the cinema (a “building of merit”) had been demolished. The financial viability of the scheme had been brought into question after the Council demanded extra Section 106 money from their development partners on the scheme Helical Bar. Now with the project abandoned the Council won’t get any Section 106 money, will probably be obliged to spend millions buying the land where the cinema and face delays during which the huge maintenance bill for the Council’s awful town hall extension will continue.

What an almighty stuff up.

Anyway apparently new plans are under way. I’m told that the under the proposed new scheme will include a replacement cinema (provided by Curzon) also that the town hall extension will go. The architects involved are Richard Rogers so whatever is built will be pretty hideous – but could scarcely manage to be worse than what is there at present. There is a plan for 210 flats of which half will be “affordable” (whatever that turns out to mean). The housing association that it is proposed will be involved is A2Dominion. I have some concerns about them as a landlord. Only yesterday I was talking to residents in Invermead Close (which they own) and came away with a litany of complaints about delays with repairs, failure to deal with rats, poor parking arrangements and so on.

The grandly named “Town Hall Development Commission” is supposed to be “resident-led”. This is a bit of a joke. It has four people on it – the council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan, a couple of architects and Melanie Whitlock. I think Melanie is a capable, independent minded and public spirited figure. But she is just one resident – and she is the first to say that she does not pretend to represent anyone other than herself.

There is due to be an exhibition of the new plans in November.

Ugly new plans for Hammersmith Grove’s “Triangle” site

Another appalling planning proposal.

This one concerns the site known as the Hammersmith Triangle –  5-17 Hammersmith Grove and 1-11 Britannia House: 3 and 3A Hammersmith Grove and 12-18 Beadon Road. There have been various proposals from its owners Romulus since 2013.

Britannia House is seven storey. The Triangle – is a part 6, part 7 storey. The new building would be between eight and 14 storeys. So the proposal is to replace very ugly buildings with even bigger very ugly buildings.

Also we need more homes rather than more offices.

The Hammersmith Society has objected.

It’s Chairman, Tom Ryland, says the design concept “is almost industrial with its metal cladding – most unsympathetic and alien to both Hammersmith centre and the adjoining Conservation Areas.” The design has a “hard-edged, almost brutal quality.”

Among the other points he makes:

Height:  The office block (south and main part of the development) proposition is taller than its neighbours at 10 & 12 Hammersmith Grove (Development Securities), Sovereign Court tower (St George) on Beadon Road and I Lyric Square. The developer advises that the height is justified by the need to provide a sense of enclosure to Lyric Square, but the plans – and illustrations in the Design and Access Statement – show how stark this cliff face will look….

Proximity to Conservation Areas:  The site is adjacent to the Bradmore CA,  Hammersmith Grove CA and Hammersmith Broadway CA. It is within a few yards of low-rise Victorian residential streets to the north. Despite the stepping back at the upper floors, the proposed building will tower over the residential streets to the north. This is not a happy conjunction between town centre and residential areas….

At present the charming landscaping in Hammersmith Grove carries on the domestic landscaping of front gardens to the north and landscaping around 10 Hammersmith Grove, also set back from the pavement line. Although landscaping is proposed on the cut-back terraces on Beadon Road, these will only be seen and appreciated by the users of the office building, and not by the man in the street.

Lucy Ivimy: Collapse of the Council’s King Street and cinema redevelopment plans

Cllr Lucy Ivimy writes

You may have noticed the gaping hole where the old King Street cinema used to be.

Its demolition was the first step in a generally liked redevelopment that had been extensively consulted on and that would have:

  • delivered a new cinema
  • converted the ugly Town Hall extension into modern housing
  • filled in the windswept ‘undercroft’ with attractive, useable space, including an entrance to the new cinema and a cafe
  • removed the hideous concrete walkways behind the existing extension and replaced them with soft landscaping and trees to create a new public space in front of the art deco Town Hall
  • provided new disabled access and lifts for the Town Hall
  • created modern office space, easily accessible to residents, for the Council’s residents’ services

The Labour council has terminated the agreement with the developer after refusing for a year to meet with them and now wants to go back to the drawing board.

I very much fear a long delay, with nothing except a gaping hole in King Street, to end up with a new scheme that will not be any better than the one that has now been cancelled.

A beautiful alternative for Empress Place

Congratulations to the social enterprise Create Streets for coming up with an excellent proposal for the Empress Place site.

This scheme has been planned in conjunction with the local community by Create Streets and Francis Terry Associates. It is high density with a comparable amount of housing to Capco’s proposed scheme or potentially rather more depending on unit mix and number of storeys. It involves no demolition of much-loved historic housing and pubs, links the historic street seamlessly into the wider Capital & Counties Properties PLC (Capco) masterplan and (unlike the current proposals) has been enthusiastically welcomed by members of the local community.

The Earl’s Court Masterplan covers 77 acres. Developer Capco proposes to transform the area into four new ‘urban villages’ along with a new High Street.

The area that is proposed to be redeveloped includes the sites of the former Earl’s Court Exhibition Halls (in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea), a Transport for London (TfL) Underground maintenance depot and the 22 acre West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates (within Hammersmith and Fulham).

The Exhibition Centres are now demolished and the concrete beams that supported them are currently being removed; plans have been drawn up, though not agreed, to relocate the rail maintenance depot; and there remains fierce debate about the prospects for the rest of the site with evidence showing that demolition of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates does not command majority support from the residents.

In November 2013, Capco received consent for their masterplan to develop around the existing Empress Place. It was an oddly-bad piece of urban design which blocked the existing Empress Place, created no new fully-formed urban blocks and led to a series of curious spaces which were neither fully private nor fully public.

In November 2016, Capco made public an alternative proposal for the site which would include Empress Place for the first time within their Earl’s Court Masterplan involving 100% demolition of the historic buildings in Empress Place and Lillie Road. This scheme increased homes on the site from about 200 under the consented scheme to over 400. However, it involved the complete demolition of the existing historic fabric, including Empress Place.

It was also a very confused piece of place making with no clear sense of the private and the public. Capco presented its new Empress Place proposals as a new public square. However, it sits incongruously in the middle of an urban block. New buildings are essentially blocks in space with no clear fronts or backs not dissimilar to the old 1960s tried and failed model. This proposal does not yet have planning consent so there is still time to envision and build something better for the current community and for the future.

Originally named Richmond Place, Empress Place (built 1864-1865) and its houses and adjacent shops were designed by architect and City of London surveyor, John Young (17971877). His influence on London’s architecture was notable. In 1823 he prepared the drawings for the London Colosseum in Regent’s Park and supervised the framing of the dome. He designed the original Cancer Hospital in Fulham Road in 1859 as well as country mansions, residential and commercial buildings. He is particularly noteworthy for his creative use of polychromatic Suffolk stone and terracotta patterned brickwork whether in industrial, civic or residential buildings. Examples of this brickwork can be seen in Empress Place and adjacent buildings.

Empress Place forms part of a proposed ‘Lillie Enclave Conservation Area’ – a proposal by local residents for a new conservation area encompassing part of Fulham’s forgotten history. It consists largely of two-storey Victorian cottages, though, as can be seen at the right of the above picture it also includes the purpose-built engineering headquarters (1907) of the Brompton & Piccadilly Railway Company. It was from this building, with its large windows designed to provide as much light as possible for the draughtsmen, that the Piccadilly line was designed.

In March 2016, Hammersmith & Fulham Council registered the Prince of Wales pub as an Asset of Community Value after a campaign by residents’ groups and local historical societies.

It is fair to say that the revised schemes with their proposed demolition of Empress Place, adjacent buildings on the Lillie Road, The Prince of Wales and The Imperial Arms pubs have not proved popular locally.

There is currently a petition raised by a Hammersmith resident on the 38 Degrees website to save it from demolition, which by 3 May had attracted 1,138 signatures.

Nicholas Boys Smith, Director of Create Streets, says:

“Both the consented scheme and the new proposals for Empress Place are poor placemaking. But these errors hide a more profound strategic mistake. The lovely terraced houses and shops of Empress Place and Lillie Road could be acting as a crucial physical and emotional link between the Earl’s Court redevelopment and the wider area. Instead, the consented scheme literally turns its back on the surrounding streets and the new proposal simply bulldozes them. It is normally wiser to integrate with the past (particularly when it is so beautiful) rather than to ignore it or to attempt to snuff it out.”

Working with the wider community, Create Streets and Francis Terry Associates have worked up a high level alternative masterplan which attempts to resolve the tension between the need for new housing, the cultural value of local heritage and the preferences of the local community. It also attempts better to integrate the approved masterplan with the surrounding streets so that the existing Empress Place literally continues on into the new ‘West Brompton Village’ portion of the Capco masterplan.

The key features of Greater Empress Place are:

  • It preserves the existing historic stock
  • It integrates Empress Place with the wider Capco masterplan for ‘West Brompton Village’ by extending it on an elegant curve, taking into account level changes, so that it connects up with Capco’s proposals immediately to the north
  • It has no impact on the proposed so-called Lost River Park immediately to the East
  • It is high density with a comparable amount of housing to Capco’s scheme or potentially rather more depending on unit mix and number of storeys
  • Rather than creating urban spaces which are neither public nor private (the consented scheme) or creating a series of isolated ‘blocks in space’, it creates two clear and conventionally-designed urban blocks with clear public space and clear private space. This is the traditional model for city-making which has endured for thousands of years and which is normally linked in the data with better-loved and safer places
  • It avoids the destruction of part of the proposed ‘Lillie Enclave Conservation Area’.
  • It would appear to be far more popular locally – an informal poll undertaken at the Spring Market on North End Road on 29th April 2017 showed an overwhelming preference for the new design, with 462 respondents (98 per cent) preferring the Create Streets scheme compared with just 10 who preferred Capco’s

Sally Taylor, Chair of West Kensington estate Tenants & Residents Association says:

“This is so much better than Capco’s proposal and a welcome departure from the usual concrete and glass blocks. How delightful it would be to have a development that preserves and extends the existing heritage rather than obliterates it.”  

Keith Drew, Chair of West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes  says:

“What a beautiful and refreshing change to the characterless concrete and glass blocks proposed by Capco! Why can’t we have this instead of yet more tedious residential warehousing? It would enhance the charm and attractiveness of our neighbourhood as well as provide much needed additional housing.” 

Anabela Hardwick, Save Empress Place campaigner says:

“I am delighted with the Create Streets approach compared to developers who demolish, appropriate place names and pay superficial homage to our architectural heritage. Empress Place must be saved and if the site is developed further, I would sincerely welcome their approach being considered.”

Scheme architect, Francis Terry says:

“Empress Place is a typically London street of modest Victorian workers’ cottages. It seems such a shame to destroy it – particularly when the architecture of somewhere is being replaced with the architecture of nowhere. Our alternative proposal for Empress Place creates a gentle curve to link in the old street with the existing masterplan. We ‘step up’ the density from two storeys to five without overwhelming the existing street. And we celebrate rather than ignore the pattern of streets, blocks and plots upon which London, and all great cities depend.”

Create Streets are making this alternative masterplan public in a constructive spirit to encourage better and more popular ways to build the homes that London needs.

They encourage:

  • Hammersmith & Fulham Council to insist on more popular design and better placemaking at Empress Place. They should not consent to the wholesale demolition of such a lovely street but should instead require that the existing street be better and more beautifully plugged in to the consented master plan. This is perfectly possible; and
  • They urge Capco to rethink not just their masterplan for this part of their development but actually the underlying philosophy it reveals. Rather than seeking to tear down the past, they should benefit from it and integrate with it.

Nicholas Boys Smith adds:

“We are making these proposals public in a constructive spirit and to promote meaningful debate. I would like to thank members of the local community for their support, for walking us around the site and for briefing us so comprehensively and clearly on what they like and don’t like about the neighbourhood and about the current proposals. “

“To Hammersmith and Fulham Council, we would say; “You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to bad design. Something far better and far more popular would be perfectly feasible on this site.”

“And to Capco, we would say; “Why not link the existing street into your wider masterplan? This would mean that rather than wiping out a lovely street and some of the surrounding history you could actually benefit from it in your wider strategy, producing much more attractive homes. Join the street, don’t destroy it.”

I have asked the Council for their response.