02 September 2011

Andy Slaughter MP warns about unsustainable development in west London

A guest blog by Andy Slaughter MP about the huge scale of developments in our borough being rushed through by Hammersmith & Fulham Tory council, the developer's best friend.

Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush are about to undergo the most intensive development in their history.  

Between now and next March planning officers will be working at four to five times their normal rate to process applications which are among the biggest anywhere in the world, and the planning committee will be asked to oblige some of the world's major developers by giving permission for construction of thousands of luxury high-rise flats over the next ten to twenty years.

My concerns about both the process – the way the supposedly independent committee rubber stamp agreements already reached between the council and developers – and the nature of the proposed developments are well known.  Densities are typically two to three times those of existing homes, heights are rarely below nine storeys and in many places are up to 30, the type of accommodation is aimed at City or foreign investors and in many cases it is being built on sites reserved for employment or even existing affordable homes.

But today I would like to focus just on the sheer scale and timing of the developments.  There are several reasons for concertina-ing so much into so little time.  Developers who can raise funds think they will get a better deal in the recession.  This is itself of concern as taxpayers stand to lose out – the West Ken land being offered to CapCo for a rumoured £100 million looks like a steal for the developer.  Next April the Mayor introduces a levy on applications to pay for Crossrail which could cost millions in the case of major sites, and naturally the developers want to avoid this, even though they will benefit from the investment.

But the main reason for haste is still the Mayoral elections.  Uniquely in modern times there are Tory administrations at national, London and local level, and therefore no one to put a break on unrestrained development.  That would change if Ken Livingstone were re-elected Mayor next May.  Ken has already visited several of the most contentious sites in the borough to see the effect on existing communities of the proposals.  He might not be so compliant to the wishes of speculators, so the developers – and the council – prefer to rush half thought-out plans through without proper consultation.

1.) West Ken/ Earl’s Court.  By far the biggest single proposal, seven and a half thousand unaffordable homes built over 20 years on and around seven hundred and fifty demolished council houses and flats.  The application is out to consultation until the end of September, but it is difficult to see how it can be determined in the near future.  The planning brief for the area does not start formal consultation until December at the earliest. Without this how can the committee determine what height and density of building should be allowed, what extra provision for transport, health, education and open space would be needed to allow such a large scheme to function?

2.) White City.  Three separate developers – Westfield, Imperial College and Helical Bar are racing to put in applications for chunks of the land north of the existing Westfield Shopping centre, east of Wood Lane.  Again, tall building and dense construction, built up against motorways and railway lines or around and above shops, is the plan to make the most profit from the land.  And again the council is months behind the developers in producing its planning frameworks for the area – the tail once more wagging the dog.

3.) Shepherds Bush Market.  The plan to demolish Goldhawk Road shops, affordable housing and hostels – and jeopardise the future of the market itself - is expected any day now.  200 luxury flats rising up to nine stories above the Victorian residential streets.

4.) Central Hammersmith and the riverside.  Here the council has given up the pretence of putting together a coherent plan as the gold rush of developers has seized on the chance to raze the town centre and build nine to 12 storey apartments along the river from Fulham Reach to Upper Mall.
  • St George’s application for Hammersmith Embankment will be determined at planning committee on 14 September.  Save our Riverfront are making a last ditch attempt to stop the ruination of this site at their public meeting on 6 September.
  • Arab Investments are negotiating to buy and demolish Riverside Studios and Queen’s Wharf to build a monolithic single block of 200 plus flats up to nine storeys. Riverside may now be found land to relocate to the St George site.
  • Helical Bar having made minor and cosmetic changes to the Town Hall scheme have submitted their application which still includes the loss of the cinema, Pocklington Trust flats and part of Furnivall Gardens.
  • King’s Mall has been sold in two parts.  The area facing Glenthorne Road, including the Mall car park, is now owned by St George who while being told that 27 storeys in not appropriate in this area are still looking to build up to 12. The Mall itself has been bought by the former owners of Earl’s Court (keep up!) who intend to refurbish it, but also knock down the 230 council homes on top and replace them with new high rise.
  • Building is also likely over the bus garage at Hammersmith Broadway, on the NCP Car Park site behind the Hammersmith & City line, and possibly in Hammersmith Bridge Road (Landmark House) and the south side of King Street, though this is further off.
Few residents will remain unaffected by these changes, but it is the council’s own tenants who will bear the brunt of the development as the war of attrition to bulldoze or starve them out of their homes steps up a gear.

Andy Slaughter MP

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