Hammersmith Society gives BT a wooden spoon for ugly phone boxes

This week saw the Hammersmith Society’s annual awards ceremony. It was a glamorous event at the Dorsett Hotel in Shepherd’s Bush Green – which was mercifully air conditioned.

The Wooden Spoon was given  to “BT telephone kiosks with advertisements that have recently appeared on the borough’s street are notable for their ugliness and, in the era of mobile phones, lack of purpose except as an undisguised method of achieving revenue from advertising.”

I am old enough to remember when phone boxes were in great demand. You would often seem them in use. Sometimes you would even see small queues forming next to them. There would be comedy sketches about how impatient people were.

If the K6 Jubilee Kiosk designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s was still present I wouldn’t mind if nobody used them. Or if the replacement ugly structures provided some practical benefit (perhaps charging points for mobile phones) that would also be a potential justification. But why do the Council back something that is both useless and hideous? I await their defence of the indefensible….

I have also asked the Council about a runner up for a wooden spoon regarding a cluster of confusing cycling signs in Iffley Road.

But the evening was not all about phone boxes. Far from it. Here is the full list:

King’s House

The Hammersmith Society today announced this year’s winners of its prestigious Awards, presented by Cllr Michael Cartwright, Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham at its AGM on Wednesday 21 June.

Main Award — King’s House, 174 Hammersmith Road, W6

This was originally the site of the King’s Theatre demolished in 1963. This new building is an unusually fine and distinguished office building, modest in height, beautifully detailed and in keeping with its location within the Brook Green Conservation Area.

Developer: Kier Property

Architect: TP Bennett

There were two Nancye Goulden Awards this year —

St James Street

20 St James Street, W6

This is a rather quirky but original conversion and extension of the former St Mark’s C of E church into offices. These currently house the headquarters of the Maggie’s Centres and a sales office for the nearby Riverside Studios development. The observatory, with its automated telescope and which was part of the original design, was made in Jackson Mississippi and shipped from New Orleans.

Developer and Architects: Michael Dunning and Elizabeth Swainston

Queen Caroline Estate

Queen Caroline Estate, W6, climate proofing project

This is a wide ranging project in its ambitions and is one of three involving west London housing estates aimed to demonstrate the important role they can play in increasing our cities resilience to climate change.

Developer: London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham

Architect: Groundwork London

Bush Theatre

Conservation Award — Bush Theatre, Uxbridge Road, W12

Although the work done recently on the Bush Theatre involved more than just conservation, the Committee felt that the whole of the Bush Theatre project deserves an award. The modernization and conversion, including a wheelchair entrance and garden terrace on the west side, has ensured that the building is now fully functional and more flexible while retaining its informality and the eccentricities of the original building.

Developer: Bush Theatre

Architect: Haworth Tomkins

Wooden Spoons

BT telephone kiosks with advertisement that have recently appeared on the borough’s street are notable for their ugliness and, in the era of mobile phones, lack of purpose except as an undisguised method of achieving revenue from advertising.

The flats above Apple Estate Agents, King’s Parade, Askew Road, W12, are crudely designed without any reference to the refined detailing of King’s Parade to which they are adjoined.

Council red tape blocking development of derelict Ravenscourt Hospital site

For over ten years the Ravenscourt Park Hospital site has sat empty. Two ago I was delighted by news that it was planned to reopen as a hospital. But the finances fell though and that scheme did not materialise. The building is left to deteriorate – and last year there was a problem with squatters.

Isn’t it time to allow some flexibility? The housing shortage is well known. Allowing a change of use would achieve this. I should think room for at least 100 new homes. It could, in all probability, include a requirement for “affordable housing” and still be financially viable. Instead residents are left with what is increasingly becoming a local eyesore.

I’ve asked the Council’s Team Leader Planning Applications if there could be a meeting with the owners of the site to consider how to make progress. He says:

“The planning permission granted for the refurbishment and extension of the hospital development has been implemented and as such the planning permission has not expired.

“Whilst I accept there is a pressing need to increase the Borough’s Housing Supply, the enhancement of community services is one of the Council’s key policies in the current development plan (Policy DM D1).

“Furthermore, in our emerging Development Plan, Policy CF1, seeks to ensure high quality healthcare and the retention and enhancement of existing healthcare facilities….and

“a)    Assist in securing sites and buildings for future healthcare provision………

“Accordingly, in my view the proposal to agree a change in use of the site to residential would not be supported and would be contrary to existing and future policy with regard to healthcare facilities in the borough.

“I am sure that we could assist if the council were to request a meeting with the site owners/ representatives of the site owners.”

I will pursue…


Fulham Town Hall has been sold – but who too?

The Council has told me that Fulham Town Hall was finally sold earlier this month.

In principle this is good news. It was agreed by the Conservative Council back in 2012 that selling the building made sense. We don’t really need two town halls in the borough.

The deal was that this fine Grade Two listed building would still have the Council Chamber, the Mayor’s Parlour and the wedding area in public use. The Council Taxpayer would benefit from a capital receipt to reduce debt (and thus the cost of interest) and also save the very heft maintenance costs.

The trouble is the whole process has dragged on.

As the Fulham Society has noted the building has become rather shabby. Plaster fell off Fulham Town Hall around last September and the pavement had to be closed to protect pedestrians.

Keeping it empty for all these years has been unfortunate.  Fulham Town Hall has deteriorated while still costing us a considerable sum in security, insurance and so on.

At first it was expected to be a hotel, then an emporium owned by an American firm called Dory Ventures – but there planning application was rejected because they wanted to change the building too much. Fair enough rejecting it but did the whole process really need to take so long?

I have asked who the building has been sold to, how much for and what is planned for the site.

Neighbourhood Plan proposed for Old Oak

I have written elsewhere about local communities gaining a greater say in the planning process by holding referendums to establish Neighbourhood Development plans. The initial evidence is they cause more homes to be built – but attractive homes in the right place with necessary infrastructure.

Mostly they have taken off outside London but I was interested to see that the Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum have put in an application.

They note that the Government is “strongly supportive” of neighbourhood planning. The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation sound less keen. They want assurances a neighbourhood plan “will not obstruct, delay, or complicate what is already one of the UK’s most ambitious and complex regeneration programmes.”

But the Forum add:

“Joint designation by the OPDC and LBHF of Old Oak as a neighbourhood area offers an opportunity to demonstrate to Londoners how this devolved layer of the national planning system can deliver new urban development that is both supported by the public and sustainable over the long-term. This is of particular relevance where a development corporation, with limited local representation and democratic accountability, is acting as the planning authority. 

“A ‘new Old Oak’ which does not meet these basic success measures will stand for several decades as an example of the dysfunctions in the UK planning system, comparable to the failures of urban planning in the 1960s. This is an outcome that must be avoided.”

The scope of the neighbourhood plan would include

  • “contributing ideas and suggestions on what makes this part of inner west London distinctive and attractive to those who live and work here, including input to the 5 the term ‘custom-build’ being used as referring to a basic shell, constructed to meet Building Regulations, which can then be fitted out by owners
  • working up options and the detail of pedestrian and cycle routes across and beyond the Old Oak area. generating ideas for the future of the Grand Union Canal and its towpaths, as a key recreational amenity, cycle/pedestrian route, and heritage and environmental asset to the area.
  •  ensuring that the amenity value of Wormwood Scrubs is maintained, with its distinctive features and ecology and an appropriate balance between serving local and London-wide needs.
  • feeding into public consultation and debate on density levels and building heights at Old Oak, recognising that ambitious targets for homes and jobs within the OPDC area are currently set in London Plan strategic policies .
  • identifying scope for new amenity space and reviewing use of existing small green spaces, proposing Local Green Space designations within existing residential areas in cases where the demanding criteria set out in the NPPF are fulfilled.”

It acknowledges the  “statutory constraints”. I think that is code for saying that if the Mayor of London wants tower blocks then tower blocks there will be – regardless of whether local people want them or if the same density can be achieved in more attractive ways.

The proposed Old Oak neighbourhood area would include:

  • College Park – “terraced streets of Victorian housing east of Scrubs Lane and south of the Harrow Road, within LBHF. The area is isolated from the remainder of Hammersmith & Fulham and includes some 280 households. The street pattern is dense and there is little within the immediate area in terms of potential development sites. Strong development interest in the surrounding area has emerged in recent years, with a series of residential towers proposed in Scrubs Lane.
  • Woodmans Mews “to the west of Wood Lane/Scrubs Lane (and opposite North Pole Road in W12) includes 50 properties, with a mix of private and social housing. Across Wood Lane are housing association properties at 28 North Pole Road (79 houses and flats, managed by London Strategic Housing (LSH) an established part of Network Housing Group). Both these 9 9 small residential enclaves just outside the OPDC boundary are included within the proposed Old Oak neighbourhood area.
  • Old Oak Estate – “a cottage estate designed by the London County Council before the First World War in ‘garden city’ style, and built out after the war. The completed estate is made up of 1056 homes – 228 five-room, 443 four-room, 341 three-room, 27 two-room and 16 one-room flats. These were designed at a density of 27 cottages per acre (approximately 100 housing units per hectare, allowing for the fact that one ‘cottage’ can contain two dwellings). The estate is a Conservation Area within LB Hammersmith & Fulham and is a highly regarded example of social housing of the period. Properties are now some 50% owner-occupied and 50% managed by the Old Oak Housing Association. The housing association was set up in 1990 following a stock transfer from LBHF, and Family Mosaic HA is the major shareholder. Both the Housing Association and the ward councillor and LBHF Cabinet Member Wesley Harcourt have expressed the view that the whole estate, rather than the northern part only, should be included within an Old Oak neighbourhood area. This approach has been followed in this application.”

Plus a couple of bits in Ealing.

The proposal sounds to me welcome so far as it goes. I would like it to have the chance to offer a stronger alternative. Forget all the craven efforts to assure the OPDC planning officers that it won’t make much difference.

Why not offer a different vision for the 24,000 new homes that are currently planned? How about an ambition to achieve the same density but with something beautiful instead of the Mayor’s hideous proposals? Those who say that it is impossible should take a look at what Create Streets has proposed for Mount Pleasant.


Why won’t H&F Council listen to the views of residents on the design of new buildings?

I recently logged the following query with Hammersmith and Fulham Council:

“Please advise what actual numerical evidence we have (if any) on what types of built form, material, typology and style local people prefer. If we don’t have any such evidence what plans to we have to undertake some proper research  – using pictures and polling to get a usable and meaningful understanding to publish the results and to make use of this evidence to inform the council’s strategy and development-control decision-making.”

This was the reply from the Council’s Head of Policy & Spatial Planning:

“We are currently embarking on a resident engagement programme as you describe below with the Hammersmith Working Party for the Hammersmith Town Centre Supplementary Planning Document (SPD).  We aim to develop a set of design principles of what people like and dislike to then take forward to a wider public consultation.

“It is through more area focused planning guidance documents such as SPDs where this exercise can reasonably be done and our Conservation Area Character Profiles guidance is another example.  To try to gather a robust evidence base to place such prescriptive design requirements across the whole borough would not only be challenging but would not sit comfortably within a high level and strategic document such as a Local Plan.  The National Planning Policy Framework while advising that planning policies should seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness, is clear that policy “should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes and they should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles” (para.60).

“Our emerging Local Plan has a number of borough-wide policies controlling design and requires that new development seeks to respect and improve the quality of our built and natural environment with further detail in policies on development in or adjoining Conservation Areas, Listed Buildings, the River Thames, etc.  Developers are required to demonstrate how they have engaged with residents and responded to their views prior to submitting an application, we also carry out a public consultation on all applications and large schemes are referred to a Design Review Panel while our in-house design team also carry out an assessment.

“Therefore, area focused guidance offers the best opportunity for a community engagement exercise as you describe, which we are currently carrying out for Hammersmith.

“I hope this information is helpful.”

So there we have it. No interest in the views of residents. The Council is happy to have plenty of gimmicks – commissions, panels, resident’s “champions”, etc. But when it comes to anything tangible the wishes of residents are disregarded.


Update on Ravenscourt Hospital site

Residents are understandably exasperated at the long delays redeveloping the Ravenscourt Hospital site. Last year squatters invaded.

The Council’s Team Leader Planning Applications tells me:

“Officers have been working with Historic England to encourage the reuse of the former Ravenscourt Park Hospital as a hospital.  Planning permission and Listed Building Consent (ref: 2007/04211/FUL and 2007/04212/LBC) have been granted for the refurbishment of the Grade II* listed building to facilitate its use as a private hospital. A certificate of lawfulness has confirmed that these works have been implemented (planning ref: 2015/03600/CLE). The building has had a complex history of ownership issues.  Last year there was considerable optimism that the building was close to being occupied again since a private hospital operator was at an advanced stage of discussions with the owners.  Unfortunately, late last year we were informed that negotiations between the parties involved had not been successful.  It is understood that various legal and property issues are currently in the process of being resolved and that routine repairs are being carried out to the building.  Officers will continue to work with the owners of the building to facilitate its reuse and to date they have expressed a clear interest in hospital uses.  The reuse of the building as a hospital is considered the most appropriate way to preserve its special architectural and historic interest.”

New Landmark House proposal is still a threat to the Hammersmith skyline – will the Council allow it?

There is a dreary, predictable rhythm to the cynical process by which property developers seek planning consent for tower blocks.

An ugly site is chosen. A proposal is made to replace an ugly building with a much taller ugly building. Some opposition is expressed. Then a revised proposal is offered – to replace an ugly building with an ugly building a bit taller. This compromise is then regarded as a victory and the new scheme approved.

The Landmark House scheme is turning into a textbook example. This is the scheme I wrote about in February which is currently an 18 storey office block in Black’s Road.

The Hammersmith Society report that the developers have “proposed a revised scheme with the hotel tower reduced to 22 storeys. This would be 15m higher than the existing building height of 61.3 metres. The architects will substitute the new proposals in their application and there will be fresh consultations inviting comments from amenity societies and local residents.”

The Council’s policy on tall buildings is much too favourable. There is plenty of contradiction and ambiguity. But it does still allow some grounds for refusal as it says proposals:

“…will need to respect the existing townscape and historic context and make a positive contribution to the skyline emphasising a point of civic or visual significance. The character of the built form and the sensitivity of the setting of heritage assets may mean that some parts of these areas will be sensitive to, or inappropriate for, tall buildings. Any proposals for tall buildings will need to respect the existing townscape context, demonstrate tangible urban design benefits, and be consistent with the council’s wider regeneration objectives.”

If these words have any meaning at all then the proposal to replace the current 18 storey building with a 22 storey one must be refused.

The developers Eastern & Oriental say:

“In response to requests for a further public consultation event we would like to propose a drop-in session on 3rd and 4th May at Landmark House (we have a room available on the ground floor behind reception).

“We are proposing to run the session from 2pm-8pm on Wednesday 3rd May and 9am – 1pm on Thursday 4th which I hope is OK. I will be there with the architects together with a selection of updated images, views and a model and will be very happy to answer any questions you or your fellow members may have.”

I would encourage residents to attend and make their views known to the Council afterwards.