Friday 27 March 2009

Residents Tell H&F Council “You Know That We Know You Can Turn The Goldhawk Industrial Estate Scheme Down”

Up until the recent residents’ campaign against proposals for fifty-six houses and eleven business units to be packed onto the current Goldhawk Industrial Estate, it may have appeared to some that local people could be blinded with planning regulations when it comes to new developments. There’s the UDP, the London Plan and the Local Development Framework; moreover the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) is classified as quasi-judicial. Add to this that Council officials have many meetings with property developers of major developments often over a year prior to a planning application being given public notice; then add that on two separate occasions H&F Conservatives actually flew to the French Riviera to offer the borough’s “contentious sites” to property speculators and it would easy for residents to feel that the whole planning process is a closed shop, which they have little influence over.

Over the last few years many residents have turned up to the PAC hoping that common sense would prevail. Instead, they’ve watched in horror as some Wandsworth style super-development is block voted through by Administration councillors. In fact, other than eighteen months ago (when a Conservative Council candidate for Hammersmith Broadway ward actually accused residents of being self-interested “nimbyists” for objecting to the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo - click on attached story to view) the Conservatives have largely feigned commiseration but then also sought to use the dazzlingly complicated planning processes to justify granting some highly “contentious” planning applications. Their line of argument usually goes something like this: “We are, of course, sympathetic to residents’ very real concerns but there’s little we can do because of planning regulations. A combination of the UDP, the London Plan, the London Mayor and a determined developer means that we’ll probably have to reluctantly vote this through in order not to suffer costs during an appeal.”

This line of argument is, nearly always, little more than a self-serving, hoodwinking exercise. It relies on the fact that most residents don’t usually have the expertise or understanding of planning procedure to get past it and persuade their Council to take their objections seriously. That was until now. H&F Conservatives have been forced to reconsider this strategy following a knowledgeable, well thought out and vigorous campaign by residents opposing plans for the Goldhawk Industrial Estate.

At the end of last year, the Brackenbury Residents Association (BRA) and Providence Villas Plus (PV+) began to put together a campaign after becoming increasingly concerned that their Council was going to nod through the Goldhawk Industrial Estate scheme – much as they had done with other applications. Some of the signs coming from H&F Council and the developer were ominous; very few residents had received notification of the consultation or invitations to the exhibition; and the application was set to be pushed through over the Christmas period (when many people were away) with a likely hearing by the PAC early in February.

BRA and PV+ organised a public meeting, which I chaired, and which took place on Wednesday 7th January. We hoped to force the Administration to extend the consultation period and so give residents more time to make their many objections heard. It worked. The consultation period has been increased and a Planning Forum was arranged so those people who had objected could explain their concerns to the Council and the developer.

The Planning Forum took place on Wednesday, 18th March and was one of the most interesting Council meetings I have been to in recent years. It began with a presentation from Londonewcastle - the developer. Richard Winterton (BRA) and Jackie Ashurst (PV+) then spoke for residents with a powerful presentation which was rich in evidence that referenced planning law, H&F Council’s UDP and the London Plan. Visuals by Nigel Winkle strongly reinforced their argument (which you can view in the photo section by clicking here). Going by the pained looks on some Administration faces, I’d say their points hit home.

Richard Winterton raised concerns that there had been “twelve months’ secret consultation between the Council and the developer” and that residents are not able to influence this process at any point until the Council and developer agree that the planning application could go public. He said, “The fresh perspective that our Council should be able to bring to the proposal is lost during this process.”

Richard’s point was good. It’s underlined by recalling that H&F Council had actually taken payment for an advertisement from Londonewcastle in H&F News which was then duly delivered to all homes across the borough. H&F Council’s press office published a positive story about the developer’s scheme in H&F News but then refused to publish any residents’ letters that commended the estate’s value in supporting business. The Council’s explanation was that the advert and their press article had gone out before the application was officially submitted. In short, that would make it almost impossible for any residents’ letters, critical of any scheme, getting published in the Council’s paper and this would always give any developer an unfair benefit over local people – something, which to date, H&F Council seems happy to go along with.

It's also worth noting that, during the presentation, the developer confirmed that Ravenscourt Park Councillors, Eugenie White (Con) and Harry Phibbs (Con) had a private briefing with the developer last year - before the application was submitted. Their fellow ward councillor, Lucy Ivimy (Con) is in fact H&F Council's Cabinet Member for Housing and so it is inconceivable that she had not been aware, from early on, of the Council's year-long negotiations with a developer to pack 56 houses and flats and 11 commercial units into a small site in her ward. Despite all this, there is no record of any of the three elected representatives for Ravescourt Park raising any public concerns on behalf of their constituents until after the application became a cause célèbre. Given this, and remembering the Tories' controversial trips to Cannes, it's easy to conclude that Richard Winterton’s point had got to the heart of the matter.

Jackie Ashurst spoke next saying that “the Goldhawk Industrial Estate has been an incubator for many leading businesses such as Innocent Drinks”. She said that if these businesses have to leave then the Council will have agreed to “Chop two hundred local jobs, at a go, in the middle of a recession”.

Many residents wanted to express their views after Richard, Jackie and Nigel's presentation was over. Patrick O’Brian, a chartered surveyor for some 35 years, told the room that H&F Council has developed a reputation as a “soft touch” amongst property developers. He raised the point that “units of mixed commercial and residential use are rarely successful”. He said that it is a “common trick for a developer to submit a further planning application seeking a change of use to alter the commercial units to more profitable residential homes after an initial planning permission has been granted” and the overall principle of building a particular scheme has been accepted. Mr O’Brian said he “would not be at all surprised if that was what was planned for this site”.

Nigel Winkle was concerned about the increases in traffic noise the development would bring once finished. He said “The Goldhawk Industrial Estate is gated shut at night and there is no traffic or noise at weekends and evenings. This will change if planning permission is granted as the proposed development would increase traffic by 43% for 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Jerry Beere raised concerns that “some back gardens of the new houses are only a metre and a half long - ending with a four metre-high wall - this is only a quarter of the private amenity space recommended by the Council’s own UDP”.

James Ball picked up the point about the loss of jobs, asking the Administration how they could “in good conscience” agree to the scheme when it is no more than a “mere speculation of a commercial park that only might work and which requires destroying a proven incubator of business success after business success” .

Robert Jaffe-Pearce told the forum that the “so-called exhibition was timed three weeks before the date of submission at the end of November" and questioned how a “slick operation like PPS could” fail to ensure all residents were properly consulted.

Sophie Sainty said that there are “nineteen children living in Brackenbury Gardens” which is opposite the entrance to the scheme. She explained that “the addition of 56 new homes would bring big increases in traffic and increase parking problems in the area”, adding “it is essential that parents with young children can park on the street”.

Rosemary Pettit explained that “the residents association is not against developments in the area but we are against over-developments and this is an over-development that will blight the neighbourhood.”

Peter Wheeler spoke on behalf of the residents of Cressy Court. He said they had met and were astonished to think H&F Council might grant the scheme, telling the Forum that “Windows in the new houses will directly overlook Cressy Court. This is unacceptable and contrary to the Council’s UDP". Peter said “the residents of Cressy Court will fight it all the way”.

David Pearson pointed out that current plans did not take into account a two metre “difference in ground levels between the development and neighbouring gardens”. Joss Pearson added that she thought “this is a bad scheme and should be turned down".

Susan Jaine told Londonewcastle that they “must be getting a clear message from local people”. She looked directly across at the developer and asked, “Will you withdraw your planning application, and reconsider in consultation with local residents?” They didn’t agree but who knows what may happen now that they and the Council Administration have seen the strength of residents arguments?

Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) asked when the scheme was likely to go to PAC? The Chair of the Planning Forum said it woud be unlikely to go before the beginning of May. Cllr Lisa Nandy (Lab) then asked the Administration for "an assurance that residents will get more than seven days notice of the scheme going to the the Planning Committee". It wasn’t forthcoming so she continued to push them. Eventually the developer agreed to attend the next public meeting to tell a wider number of residents of their possibly revised proposal.

H&F Conservatives have told residents that they may have to grant permission to this application otherwise the Council could suffer costs. Richard Winterton said that this is nonsense as costs are only ever awarded if a Council is proved to have acted “recklessly” . Richard summed up for residents, saying that "it would actually be reckless for this scheme to be given planning consent". He said that "it is the duty of all elected representatives to put residents first" and that this scheme is “exactly how to ruin a neighbourhood”.

If you’d like to object to this scheme then please click here. I hope residents’ concerns will be taken seriously. It's clear that, in this instance, any attempt to hoodwink residents into believing that the Administration has to approve this scheme has failed. I told the Planning Forum that, “It is clear that the Administration has the evidence and the reasons within planning law to turn this scheme down. Following the residents’ presentations everyone in the Administration cannot get away from the fact that residents know that H&F Council can turn this application down if it wants to. That is precisely what those elected into positions of trust should do.”


Andy Peacock said...

Conservatives Councillor should make apology to the members of the Residents.

There should be a planning policy saying no new building should not be over 5 floors.

Anonymous said...

You certainly do pack real political punch steve!