Weekly Update From Councillor Guy Lambert
Some thoughts on planning, Brentford, housing and related matters
This has been a really unusual week, with very few engagements other than personal ones but as it started with planning committee, and as planning matters are in people’s minds at present it seems like a plan to divert from the usual diary format to air some thoughts on planning, Brentford, housing and related matters.
HEALTH WARNING: this blog is both longer and more earnest than the usual outpourings so readers might find themselves crying, going to sleep, or reaching for the green ink rather than the usual sniggering.
Let’s start with what actually came to the planning committee, and what didn’t. What didn’t was a plan to turn a pub car park in central Hounslow into a carwash. The officers recommended this for refusal and looking at the proposal it was bang in the middle of a residential area and seemed a very bad idea to me. It’s easy to think that that will be the last we hear of it, but it may not be the case – developers will often look at objections and try to address them and sometimes schemes that seemed impossible become feasible on a revised proposal.
Such was the case with a proposal for putting a third storey on the Wickes building in Chiswick High Road. The residential Chiswick Road is behind and previous versions of the scheme had been rejected for a variety of reasons – inadequate private amenity space, not enough cycle parking, out of character to the street scene. The developer appealed and the Planning Inspector rejected the appeal, but only because of the lack of private/communal amenity space. He/she was quite happy with street scene, scale, etc. Not surprisingly, the developer revised the scheme to improve the amenity space. Of course this is not a place that you’d want to bring up a family, but thinking back to when I was young (such a time does exist, honest) I could easily see myself choosing such a place to live (would be several steps up from the rodent infested flat above the Aladdin’s Cave junk shop in Manor Park which was my home for a year). A bit of a roof garden would actually be a bonus. But for the planning committee it would have been very hard to reject, anyway, on the basis that it would most likely be allowed on appeal. Mel Collins passionately argued about the lack of provision for the disabled and Lefty Lee said it was just another case of wicked capitalist landlords exploiting the proletariat, as is his usual argument. Approved by a majority.
A Free School in Heston was the next matter for debate. Of course us Labourites are not big fans of Free Schools but local children need school places and Free Schools are the only game in town, now all the existing schools have burst their seams and been provided with new more voluminous garments to accommodate their bulges. This school is to be built on what is described as ‘local open space’ but as seems to be normal it wasn’t exactly open when I last visited – more a scrubby building site with portacabins dotted around. The issue becomes traffic and congestion: schools always wax lyrical about how they will encourage children to walk to school but when it comes to the crunch far too many arrive by horseless carriage: perhaps mum or dad is on their way to work or the shops, or they just find it easier. In truth, there’s not a lot schools can do about it. We approved the school (no it doesn’t make it an Approved School) but urged the traffic people to look at restrictions in surrounding roads.
There was a retrospective application about air conditioning units on a restaurant in Chiswick. Neighbours were infuriated by the noise which they said was preventing their son from sleeping. It’s never clever (poem alert) to install things first and ask questions afterwards and I suppose the planning committee would have been within our rights to tell them to take them out and start again, but in the end we were (or at least a majority of us were) convinced by the noise enforcement officers who assured that the proposal to provide acoustic covers would reduce the noise sufficiently, so the application was approved.
Finally we discussed the application for the new Brentford stadium to allow London Irish Rugby club to operate from there as well. There are obvious concerns about traffic and the strain on public transport but we felt that the presence of a major rugby club would enhance the area, help local shops, pubs etc, and that the impact of more fixtures, nearly all at weekends, would be acceptable. I was very disappointed that the extra income stream from the rent the rugbies will presumably pay cannot be taken into account when the sums are done on the viability of affordable housing provision on this site: the stadium is seen as separate from the enabling development, apparently.
So that was last week’s planning committee. But I wanted to talk a little about the major plans within Brentford, which are extremely controversial and which will put the planning system and the committee in the spotlight.
There are a number of major proposals mooted for Brentford – some already running, some in the pipeline, some in Syon ward, some in Brentford. In Syon, we have the police station, Morrisons site, (as well, of course as the existing development at Brentford Lock West and the approved one for Ballymore, south of the High Street). In Brentford ward we have the Watermans centre, Capital Interchange Way, Layton Road, perhaps later the Fountains leisure centre and surrounding sites.
During the week I met with Andrew Dakers who had kindly chaired the public meeting on Morrisons. We discussed what was said there, and wider questions about development in Brentford (Andrew is chair of the High St steering Committee) which I’m now taking up with others in the council. It was heartening to receive a letter during the week from the river users who are in dialogue with Ballymore who now think discussions are ‘on the right track’.
The Morrisons site is clearly the highest profile and most immediate so I’ll just share some thoughts on that, but the comments will likely apply for the most part to the other major developments.
I haven't made my mind up about this proposal but I have attended every consultation event about it and received a lot of correspondence. Some supportive, some conditional, some plain against. I am also in dialogue with planning officers about the 'legal' and planning implications. For what it’s worth, I’d put myself in the ‘conditional’ camp: I can see that a redevelopment of the site could be beneficial, but it has to be the right development.
There was no conniving between the council and developers about this proposal: as far as I'm aware an ambitious developer who is looking to do a lot of developments of this type all across London, spotted an opportunity with the Morrisons lease expiring. They bought the freehold and developed some plans, which were then discussed with planning officers and exhibited twice to the public. They were extensively modified as a result and a planning application lodged.
The legislation has a ‘presumption in favour of approval’ so if the planning committee wants to reject it needs to have clear grounds to do so. There is, of course, a 1000+ petition started by the Friends of St Pauls Rec. I have agreed to present this (merely means I alert the mayor that it exists and hand it physically to her in Borough Council). I’m actually not sure how much weight a petition has in law but you can be certain I’ll find out. It certainly weighs on councillors’ minds and has far more weight than the relatively trifling amount of council tax a development would generate. Actually I’ve never considered that at all: social or truly affordable housing is of far more interest, as is local opinion.
If we reject for the wrong reasons and the application is passed on appeal, that is a terrible outcome both financially and in terms of our ability to control what happens. But of course this is a big risk for a developer too, so it’s in everybody’s interests to negotiate a solution that all can live with. I don’t know how this one will play out.
February 17, 2017