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.

Ugly office block proposed for Wellesley Avenue


There is a proposal for an ugly office block in Wellesley Avenue, by Ravenscourt Park.

You have until Tuesday July 11th to object – by emailing Raj.Satheesan@lbhf.gov.uk

I have responded as follows:

Further to my earlier email please note I have been sent several more strong objections to this proposal. I endorse the objections.

Please confirm that if officers wish to recommend approval for the scheme my request that this decision should go to the Planning Committee. (If the recommendation is for rejection then I see no need for it to go to the Committee)

My grounds for objecting are as follows:

– the size and scale of the building in a residential conservation area
– the windows overlooking existing properties
– the overbearing nature particularly for the back gardens in Dorville Crescent
– the overall impact on the character of the conservation area.

The existing house at 14 Wellesley Avenue is attractive. The design of the proposed replacement is ugly.

We also have alternative ugly modernist designs to replace the car repair workshop at 12 Wellesley Avenue. The design statement says it wishes to “avoid the sense of being a series of ersatz cottages”. But it would be perfectly possible to have a traditional, beautiful, neo-classical office building.

For that matter it would be possible to have a change of use to housing and allow a series of real (as opposed to ersatz cottages).

After all the housing shortage is well known.


Best wishes,

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.