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.


Why won’t H&F Council publish property developers viability assessments?

Andrew Boff, a Conservative member of the London Assembly is calling for an end to the confidentiality of the viability assessments in planning applications from property developers.

This was the sort of cause that Labour in Hammersmith and Fulham used to be keen on – when they were in opposition. Since they took control of the Council last year they have got rather more keen on cosy private deals with property developers. It allows them to make all sorts of claims about when a splendid deal they have negotiated without having to cope with proper scrutiny of the reality.

John Finlayson, the Council’s Head of Planning and Regeneration, writes to tell me the administration’s policy:

“Over the last decade issues relating to the financial viability of development have become increasingly important in the English planning system. Financial viability is a material planning consideration in terms of the likelihood of the proposed development being carried into effect. This can be a very important issue when assessing the acceptability or otherwise of a development proposal, particularly where the proposal may not accord with the targets set by planning policy. The government encourages local planning authorities not to impose requirements on developers which render proposals non-viable unless serious harm would arise.

In order for the Council as planning authority to properly determine the effect of planning requirements on development viability, the assessment and negotiation of planning applications frequently involves the consideration of financial and commercial appraisals prepared by developers. Such appraisals invariably contain commercially confidential and sensitive information. Where such information is provided by an applicant to the Council on a commercially confidential basis, the Council is under a duty to not to disclose that information to anyone else unless allowed or required to do so by law.

Applicants do typically seek to place confidential restrictions on all aspects of viability information. This normally takes the form of seeking an exemption from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 on the basis that this would adversely affect the confidentiality of commercial information which protects a legitimate economic interest. The current approach to financial viability is therefore somewhat opaque and any move to greater transparency will be very much dependent on the approach of the courts to disclosure.

In LBHF since 11 October 2011 there has been a Disclosure of Confidential Information Protocol. The Protocol deals with information which is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and the Local Government Act 1972. The protocol was prepared by Legal and Planning officers and it sets out further guidance in respect of requests by Committee members for information relevant to planning matters submitted in confidence by third parties. The protocol should be read in conjunction with the Local Protocol For Officers On Access To Information in the Council’s Constitution.”

So there we have it. No convincing reason for secrecy. The Council could insist on transparency in this regard. What have the property developers got to hide? But the Council chooses not to. Don’t blame Mr Finlayson – blame his political masters.

My own view is that transparency would actually help boost the confidence and understanding of residents in the planning system and thus help get the homes built that are wanted.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Labour push through approval for 28 storey eyesore in Wood Lane

whitecityblockstwoLast October I reported on the intention by the Labour council to allow the developers St James to undertake a hideous development in Wood Lane including a 28 storey tower block.

Last night the Planning Applications Committee considered the matter. The report included objections from the Labour MP Andrew Slaughter summarised as follows:

“Raises objection to the planning application. Excessively scaled 10-28 storey buildings are inappropriate for the area and will block out natural light to neighbouring properties. Will cause loss of privacy to existing residents who will be overlooked by thousands of residential properties. Concern raised about density of the proposals and the affordability of the homes if they are unaffordable for local people. Proposal should address local housing needs.”

The Hammersmith Society added:

“Raise objection to the proposed development which is too tall and dense, and has an inhospitable pedestrian environment. No justification for tall buildings given which exceed the indicative heights in the WCOAPF. Object to 28 storey tower at north end of site. Development blocks are too close together and the detailed component potentially comprises the development of adjoining sites. HS advises that affordable housing should be closer to 40% target. Highlight importance of connections to ensure the success of the open space on the site.”

Indeed only 19 per cent of the properties on the site will be designated “affordable” housing. Under the Conservatives property developers faced tougher negotiations – and needed to provide 30 per cent or 40 per cent.

Even that 19 per cent but not necessarily be genuinely “affordable” – it will be “an appropriate mix of intermediate, affordable rented and social rented housing.”

In terms of height it exceeds even the planning officer’s own guidance – with their prejudice in favour of tower blocks. Yet they said let’s build it anyway:

“The proposed number of tall buildings (in both the detailed and outline elements) exceeds the limited number envisaged in Core Strategy Policy WCOA for the Opportunity Area, and the general height and mass of the scheme is greater than what is set out in the indicative WCOAPF masterplan. Notwithstanding this, it is considered that the proposed development provides a satisfactory design response, in terms of having no adverse impacts on the surrounding built environment which includes the Wood Lane Conservation Area and Grade II listed Television Centre building and adjoining sites which are subject to redevelopment and regeneration.”

While two Conservative councillors – Lucy Ivimy and Alex Karmel – spent a hour asking challenging questions of  the proposal Cllr Michael Cartwright for Labour said we “shouldn’t worry about the details” because St James are “a subsidiary of the UK’s biggest homebuilders” and that we can “trust them to get it right”.

All the Labour councillors ignored Mr Slaughter’s objections and voted to inflict this eyesore scheme on the borough. Among those brushing aside his objections? Cllr Iain Cassidy of Fulham Reach Ward – who as Mr Slaughter’s office manager was doubtless responsible for ensuring for objection was sent in.


Labour’s u-turn on Earls Court redevelopment?

adonisThis morning I’ve written for Conservative Home about City Villages. It’s a report from the left wing think tank the IPPR edited by the Labour peer Lord Adonis. He was seeking to be the Labour candidate for Mayor of London but is now backing Dame Tessa Jowell. He was also brought in as an advisor to the new Labour administration in Hammersmith and Fulham.

There is some local interest in the report as Lord Adonis praises the Earls Court redevelopment. In the past Labour have opposed it. The Labour MP Andrew Slaughter made false claim during the last General Election campaign in 2010 that residents would be forced to live in Barking and Dagenham.

But Lord Adonis says:

“As for larger, current city village developments, Gary Yardley, investment director of one of London’s biggest developers Capco, explains his vision for Earls Court, one of the largest development sites in inner London (nearly 80 acres to provide some 7,500 new homes).

“In many ways Earls Court is London’s next ‘great estate’, reinventing their legacy and approach for the 21st century. The site assembly at Earls Court is itself a remarkable feat: partly existing White City council estates, partly large redundant Transport for London (TfL) train storage and repair facilities, and partly the site of the decommissioned Earls Court Exhibition Centre. TfL will retain a stake in the development company for Earls Court.

“The masterplan combines higher density with significant new public amenity, creating new streetscapes and retail/business centres, a site for a new London museum or gallery, new schools, a large new public park, and a car club which every resident will be invited to join.”

Leave aside the shaky grasp of local geography betrayed by his reference to “White City”. This is a positive message about the development.

Then there is Mr Yardley essay which says:

“Major opportunities come with significant challenges – specifically that volumes should not compromise the need for good-quality homes, connectivity or the need for community integration, and the recruitment of good architects is integral to providing vision to sites of this scale.

Essential to getting major projects off the ground are strong relationships with local governments and planners, to ensure the masterplan of the site meets the expectations of local residents and Londoners. In the case of Earls Court, this involves two local authorities, in particular working closely with Hammersmith and Fulham council to ensure all existing qualifying residents of the old estates will be offered a new home within the development. Such major regenerations may transform the landscape, but in order to retain the social fabric and history of places, ensuring the current residents have a place in the new community is critical for building new places around existing social infrastructure.”

The existing West Ken and Gibbs Green estates are rather closed off from the wider area. This is a typical flaw with council estates – very divisive. Restoring street patterns will change this. The new homes will be better than the existing homes.

Not that they will necessarily be as attractive as they could. When Mr Yardley talks about “good architects” he means award winning architects which means bad architects. Trying to ensure that the new housing is attractive is an area where the council could have a positive influence. Unfortunately with the current administrations modernist planning policies – which favour more tower blocks – this is unlikely. But Mr Yardley can hardly be blamed for operating within the design guidance of planning officers.

Still this is a scheme that will offer real improvements. More housing, better housing, a better mix of tenure. It will mean our community is brought together rather than having one section closed off from the rest.


Hideous tower proposed to replace Palladium site on Shepherd’s Bush Green

Virginia Ironside writes

We are faced with another threat and the picture says it all.
TowerDorsett Hotels, who did a sympathetic conversion of Odeon I (above, on the right), have acquired the Walkabout pub (also known as Odeon II or the Shepherds Bush Palladium) and want to demolish it to build “serviced apartments”.

walkaboutnewThe Walkabout and the Empire Theatre and Bush Hotel to the South and the re-vamped Odeon to the North are all locally listed “Buildings of Merit” in the Shepherds Bush Conservation Area. The whole exterior of the old Palladium should be retained and restored – not destroyed.  Under the gaudy paint the original features are intact:

The Conservation Area Character Profile includes The Palladium is in “pages 5-9” para 5.11. Of course the proposed tower’s effect on the Empire Theatre (5.10) and the Bush Hotel (5.14) as well as the revamped Odeon I (5.12) would be disastrous if this important building is not saved.

The developers have made a video in an attempt to justify their desecration of Shepherds Bush Town Centre.  To view it, enter the password Walkabout.

But Dorsett Hotels retained the old façade of the old Odeon so successfully, so surely they could do the same with the old Palladium?

If you agree that to demolish one of the few idiosyncratic buildings around in Shepherd’s Bush to make way for more personalityless Dubai-like architecture would be a disaster, could you write and object in the strongest possible terms and forward to any groups or individuals who would be interested? Objections have to be in by April 15th.

This link takes you to the planning application page where you can object with the “make a comment” button.

Please copy your comments to:

The Planning Committee:

Vice-Chair: (also Shepherds Bush ward councillor)

Shepherds Bush ward councillors:

and MP Andy Slaughter: