There are two rumours currently going around Hammersmith Town Hall about the Goldhawk Industrial Estate proposal - which was heard by the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) last night. The first is that senior Conservative Administration councillors had given officers a very hard time for not recommending that the development became 100% housing. The second is that some Conservative committee members “wobbled” yesterday morning and, having seen the overwhelming evidence against the plans, were going to vote the application down. They apparently had to be “toughened up” to pass the controversial scheme.
Whatever turns out to be the case, I am sorry to tell you that the property speculator’s plan was backed by a majority of all seven Conservative councillors on the PAC. They gave it their unanimous support. The minority three Labour committee members all voted against.
Around two hundred residents turned up to protest. Hammersmith Broadway Councillors Lisa Nandy (Lab), Mike Cartwright (Lab) and I questioned officers and spoke against the proposal. Councillors Colin Aherne (Lab) and Wesley Harcourt (Lab) did the same. We were glad to be joined by Ravenscourt Park Councillor Eugenie White (Con) who also pressed her colleagues on the PAC (which included fellow ward Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con)) not to vote it through.
As the meeting progressed it became obvious that the evidence presented in the planning report was particularly flimsy. Take the comment listed in 3.3 on page 27. H&F Council asserted that “Innocent Ltd, who employ 160 of these people have indicated that they require larger, more suitable business premises” implying that they were keen to move anyway. This turned out to be absolute nonsense with officers forced to make the incredible admission that they had got this information direct from the property speculator and not Innocent Drinks. In fact, it turned out that Innocent and the Soundhouse Studios had actually tried to buy the site when they found out they would be evicted but the new owner apparently quoted a price that was in the realm of “telephone numbers”.
Similarly, planning officers told those assembled that they believed the quality of office space would be better if this development went through. But, it turned out that they were not aware of the £2million investment the Soundhouse Studios had put in to create an acoustic environment of exceptional quality. A raft of high profile celebrities have benefited from these facilities over the years. John Humphrys sent in a letter of support. Because of the planning vote those facilities are currently set to be destroyed and replaced with standard business units incapable of facilitating that type of work.
The advice listed in 4.1 on page 40 about the Section 106 fund was particularly odd. The property speculator is obliged pay to H&F a sum to contribute to the extra cost the borough will have to bear because of the development. The report surprised all present by recommending that this should be fixed at the unusually low figure of £300,000. Under questioning officers admitted that this figure was primarily based on the property speculator’s own analysis of the site’s viability. It then became clear that this assessment was undertaken at today’s market values and not at what the site would be worth built and ready for sale - when the economic circumstances will be very different. This was also the reason given for cutting the standard allocation of affordable rented housing to zero. Both of these points indicated that H&F Council had failed to negotiate a satisfactory deal on behalf of residents.
Indeed, the report was full of information presented as an objective overview but proved to have either directly originated from the property speculator (who clearly has a vested interest) or was completely inaccurate – such as wrongly informing committee members that Brackenbury Primary School planned to lay on extra places for the increased number of eligible school children in the locality.
Any legitimate concerns raised were simply brushed aside, making many residents openly question whether the planning process had been nobbled. We were told the area is a "brown field site" when it isn’t; that the change of land use was “not significant” despite it changing to a largely residential development and that the added parking problems would not happen to any “large degree”. We were even informed that the extra traffic "would not cause an increased danger to the children" at neighbouring Brackenbury Primary School because of analysis which came from (you’ve guessed it) the property speculator.
Residents had gone to the expense of paying for a report from an eminent QC – who specialises in planning law. I’ll email a copy to anyone who wants it. Understandably, residents wanted to find out if there was any truth to the expressed view put by the Conservative Administration that this had to be voted through because of planning law. The QC completely demolished the Administration’s case but his opinion was quickly discarded - along with all the other reasoned arguments.
Residents left the meeting feeling let down, angry and disenchanted. Many told me they had been Conservative voters and had been shocked to see the representatives they elected use their block vote in such a way.
Last night reflected the Administration’s unhappy approach to working with large property speculators. There's been many other similar examples.
It’s just three years since senior Conservative councillors first flew to the French Riviera, at public expense, for secret meetings about “contentious sites” across the borough. We are only just beginning to see the results of those meetings and other such plotting. One thing is clear so far: it’s not residents that this Administration is putting first.