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Tesco/Homebase Public Inquiry - Day 11

Monday 26 September 2022 Location: Hounslow House HERITAGE EVIDENCE, HISTORIC ENGLAND

Today the Public Inquiry restarted in person! Attendees were greeted by a well-attended lobby from OWGRA and others outside Hounslow House. We were joined by members of the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, and showed our 3D model, banner and displays. Many thanks to all who attended. This first day back commenced with consideration of Heritage matters.

The Inspector welcomed participants back and introduced the programme for the week. She noted that some missing information had been published in the interim, and further supporting information had been uploaded to the document library. She confirmed that Alfie Stroud would present evidence for Historic England (HE), Dr Miele for the applicant, and Mr Froneman for LBH, and that the evidence would be examined. The evidence would consider how assets and settings would be affected by the proposed developments.

Mr Lyness, KC for HE, introduced Mr Stroud, their expert, who is qualified and experienced in heritage matters. He took him through a series of slides. Mr Stroud affirmed that both developments would be visible and obtrusive across a wide area, with a significant adverse effect on heritage assets, including a World Heritage Site (WHS) and Grade I and II listed buildings. Historic designed landscapes such as Kew Gardens and Syon Park are rare in London. He referred to previous visualisations from the Townscape and Visual Impact Assessments (TVIA’s).

The Syon Park setting was designed for views from across the Thames. The Capability Brown designed ‘layered’ landscape was important to the setting of the House, part of the iconic stretch of the ‘Arcadian Thames’. The extensive rooflines of the developments would intrude above the treeline and the House and undermine the artistic aspects. He referred to the adverse impacts on the ‘Canaletto View’ (see also Day 4), the view from the western parkland, and the vista of the development rising above the Lion Gate. He refuted the argument that just because some existing developments intrude, further developments were OK. He advised that you cannot simply plant twenty screening trees without a risk to the carefully designed layered landscape. In his view the proposed developments would result in a ‘high to medium level of less than substantial harm’.

Mr Lyness moved on to the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew. Mr Stroud asserted that RBG was a WHS of ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ (OUV), by virtue of its landscape and horticultural content. Originally designed by Charles Bridgeman in the 1700’s, it has a historic relationship with both the Thames and Syon Park, as part of the ‘Arcadian Thames’. Although later conceived as a vista from within RBG across to Syon Park, with the Thames as a ‘water feature’, it was meant to be experienced in a mobile manner. Rather than from the specific viewpoint on the Syon Outlook, with its current seating, it was a sequence of views to be experienced kinetically. He also noted that the views from Isleworth Ferry Gate and elsewhere within the WHS would also see the developments intrude above the treeline. He added that the towpath views also contributed to the WHS OUV, not just views from within.

Mr Lyness moved on to Osterley Park (OP). Mr Stroud noted that this was the third historical landscape affected and was the setting for the significant House. Again, this is a complex layered landscape, in a more suburban setting, but reasonably well screened by perimeter planting. Some large distant buildings are glimpsed – these should not be regarded as being included in the layered landscape. The park was not an 'urban common’, and a distinction should be made between the landscape within and without the park. The view of the two lodges and tree line at the beginning of Osterley Lane, as from the park, would see the developments rising above the boundary. Similarly, the view from the main access from Osterley Gate would see a considerable mass of buildings, incongruous and distracting, and having an urbanising effect. The park sits within the OP Conservation Area and here the development would be even more exposed, with greater intrusive effects.

Mr Lyness moved on to other assets. Mr Stroud noted the adverse effects on the Grade II listed Clubhouse and Pavilion, the Grade II* Quaker Meeting House, and view back from the Golden Mile, where the vertical mass of the Homebase development would tower above the horizontal Grade II art deco buildings. The Grade II listed Gillette Tower would be dwarfed by a dense cluster of tall buildings, detracting from its ‘elegant dominance of the surrounding area.’

Mr Stroud concluded his evidence by stating that the development brief failed to take account of the landscape significance and ignored HE advice. As a result, the developments would cause cumulative and novel extensive harm to the historical assets and surroundings.

Mr Warren KC, for the Applicant, then cross-examined Mr Stroud. He first sought to clarify the HE approach. It was agreed that there must be clear evidence for ‘less than substantial harm’, and that harm can be outweighed by public benefit. Mr Stroud agreed that as a statutory consultee, Inspectors should give consideration to HE evidence but can, and do, disagree. In considering acceptability, there is more to the judgement than just heritage, and a planning balance must be struck.

Here, this blogger must confess. Much of this, and what followed, appeared to be very lengthy, esoteric, and sometimes incomprehensible discussions based on the documents, previous cases and judgments, and it was often difficult to discern exactly what points the KCs were making. Although the three experts on heritage were qualified and experienced, they had all come to different judgements. Perhaps he who pays the piper……?! Mr Stroud agreed that the HE evidence was based on existing documents which included the evidence from Mr Spence (see Day 4).

Mr Warren moved on to the WHS (RBG). There was some discussion about ‘the setting of the setting’ (!), and he sought to make the point that the ‘glimpsed views’ would be negligible, and not actually registered. Mr Stroud differed, but agreed that the Inspector, having visited the site, will make her own judgement. Mr Warren suggested, and Mr Stroud agreed, that the Ferry Gate, a Victorian addition, was sited so as to minimise the visibility from the Syon Outlook, and that the development was not visible for much of that outlook. The Kew Management Plan expressed concerns regarding visibility from within the WHS but not from outside on the towpath, and Mr Stroud agreed that views from the towpath had no bearing on the WHS OUV. Mr Warren further suggested that the views of Mr Spence were incorrect, and that the development’s intrusion would only be seen from a short stretch of the towpath – after lengthy discussion Mr Stroud disagreed. At this point it was agreed to take a lunch break.

The afternoon commenced with Mr Warren continuing to cross-examine Mr Stroud. He probed further about the views from the towpath, and Mr Stroud agreed that they were different from those from the Syon Vista, and that the towpath was built as a matter of expedience rather than part of the design. Mr Warren sought to determine how the developments would affect the iconic architectural legacy of the WHS (e.g. the listed Pagoda and Palm House). Mr Stroud agreed that the setting would be affected, but not the buildings themselves, as would the balance between the WHS, the Thames and Syon Park.

Mr Warren then moved on to Syon Park. It was agreed that the House was the dominant feature of the view from the WHS Syon Outlook. Mr Warren suggested that the significance and value of the archaeology and historic interest was not affected, but Mr Stroud disagreed, saying that the setting was important to both understanding and appreciation. He further stressed that the ‘Canaletto View’, although a composite, was similarly affected.

There followed a lengthy, but largely inconsequential, discussion about the degree of dominance and intrusion of the proposed developments above Syon House, and from views elsewhere in the Park. As with the WHS, Mr Stroud agreed that structures in the Park, such as Lion Gate and the Pepper Pot Lodges, were not in themselves harmed, but that their settings were.

Mr Warren turned to Osterley Park. It was agreed that there would be no harm to the significance of the House, and that the setting of the Park was already affected by distant tall buildings and nearer suburban developments – there was no impression of being in the countryside. Mr Stroud asserted that the park was ‘designed rurality’, and that the design itself would not be affected by the proposals but the setting would. Even though there are already tall buildings visible, the proposed developments are much closer.

Mr Warren moved on to the Conservation Area (CA), which consists of Osterley Park and House and the surrounding 1920s suburban development. Again, Mr Stroud stressed that the CA housing itself would not be affected, but the setting and character would be affected by the bulk of the Tesco development looming above the rooflines. With regard to the Gillette Building, Mr Stroud agreed that the setting had been degraded but insisted that the dominance of the building and its townscape value would not be improved by the new development. Mr Warren finished his cross-examination.

Mr Booth, KC for LBH, commenced his cross-examination. He started by again trying to clarify the HE approach and attempted to get Mr Stroud to define ‘the mid-range of less than substantial harm’. A convoluted discussion ensued, without much clarity (!), but Mr Stroud agreed that any harm caused by the proposals would not affect the listing status of any of the assets.

Mr Booth turned to the WHS (RBG), and especially the Management Plan (MP). It was agreed that many views within the WHS contributed to OUV, and most were not affected by the proposed developments. Mr Stroud agreed that many of the formal views, vistas and listed structures in the MP would not be affected, and that the impact on the OUV needed to consider the entire WHS. He further agreed that the proposals would only be seen from a small part of the Syon Outlook, along with some glimpses of parts of the Brentford project.

Mr Stroud agreed that his assessment of ‘mid-range of less than substantial harm’ arose from glimpsed views from the Syon Outlook and Ferry Gate, and the sequence of views from the towpath, which is outside the WHS. He agreed that views from the towpath did not contribute to the WHS OUV; if he discounted them, his assessment dropped to ‘low less than substantial harm’. Mr Booth suggested that with regard to harm to the WHS OUV the assessment was ‘manifestly overstated’. Mr Stroud disagreed.

Mr Booth moved on to Syon Park. Mr Stroud agreed that, despite the intrusion of the modern hotel and car park, the Grade I listed House and Gardens remained ‘one of the best-preserved aristocratic estates in London’. Further, that the modern developments were intrusive, and any assessment must have regard to them. Mr Stroud agreed that for many views the intrusions by the hotel complex and other buildings outside the site were more than minor. Further, he had not specifically noted the harm to the ‘Arcadian illusion’ caused by aircraft noise and passing traffic. Finally, Mr Booth sought to get Mr Stroud to reassess and downplay the heritage significance of the House and suggested that he had selectively referred to previous assessments. Mr Stroud disagreed. Mr Booth concluded his cross-examination.

Finally, Mr Lyness, KC for HE, re-examined. He sought to clarify some of the issues raised during cross-examination. However, when he returned to ‘the setting of the setting’, and then to the ‘palimpsest of landscape design’, this blogger had had enough! So ended the long day (nine hours, 9.30 to 18.30!).

You can watch the proceedings of this day on Hounslow Council’s YouTube channel


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