Thursday, 29 September 2022 Location: Hounslow House ROUNDTABLE: CHARACTER & APPEARANCE
The day started with the Planning Inspector clarifying amendments to documents in the library.
Barbara Stryjak, for OWGRA, then commenced the proceedings by commenting on the issues of bulk and height with regard to the Homebase development. She noted the views of the independent Design Review Panel (DRP) on the Homebase site, which concurred with the views of OWGRA that, although there had been some improvements, real concerns still remained about the mass of the development above the podium. The same comments applied to the Tesco site. Why was the mass so great?
Mr Warren, KC for the developer, stated that although the London Plan required large schemes to undergo independent review, developers may agree or disagree with the findings. Mr Roberts, for the developer, referred to the Homebase site as being a point of transition between the existing domestic low-rise character to the west and the industrial character to the east. Mr Warren noted that it was not just a case of optimising the residential opportunity, but part of developing a ‘sense of place’(!) – a new community that would include a new station. Barbara emphasised that there was no confirmation of funding for a new station, and no gradual transition from low-rise to high-rise. The proposals for the Access Storage facility had been reduced in height during the planning process precisely for that reason.
Barbara returned to the findings of the DRP; that the development was overly bulky with not enough space around it. Why was a more fitting design not presented? Mr Warren stated that this had already been covered, and these were matters of judgment. Barbara pressed for an answer, but Mr Warren averred that this had already been covered in earlier sessions. The Inspector confirmed that this session was to catch anything not already covered, but asked for an overview response. Mr Patel, architect for the developer, stated that the buildings had been located so as to form an entrance to the Great West Corridor, and to ‘celebrate’ (!) the Gillette Tower – they did step back from the road and formed an ‘elegant composition’ when seen from close by and far way. Mr Roberts noted that the podium echoed the surrounding buildings, with the tall structures rising up out of it.
Barbara again returned to the DRP findings that the development had insufficient space to accommodate the proposed number of residents moving around the site and going to and from the station. This was refuted by Mr Roberts.
Mohsen Zikri, for OWGRA, confirmed that we were not convinced at the arguments for dismissing the DRP findings. Mr Booth, KC for LBH, echoed Mr Warren’s assertion that the DRP comments had been ‘engaged with’, but they had no powers of determination, and were not law. Mr Booth had been referring to Barbara as Ms Stanick (!) – Barbara firmly corrected him! This blogger is not surprised at their rude carelessness, but is surprised that the Inspector had not stepped in!
Barbara raised further issues raised by the DRP (buildings too close together, the bleakness of the four-storey podium), but these were all shrugged off. Olga Szokalska and Sheila O’Reilly, for OWGRA, both reiterated concerns at the bulk and effects on quality of life. Further conclusions of the DRP were similarly disregarded, Mr Warren concluding that with developments needing to take account of many issues, ‘a balance had to be struck’.
Barbara moved on to the 3D model which was on display, and the photos taken of it in the OWGRA evidence, in particular those that showed the Homebase buildings towering over the 5-storey Access Storage building and the 2-storey maisonettes of Northumberland Gardens. Mr Warren took issue with the model and the photos – that they were not verified and not accurate with regard to scale relationships.
Barbara moved on to the photovisualisations produced by OWGRA’s expert witness, Mike Spence. In particular, the view from the ‘Trees’ estate to the south east, past the railway line, which is much lower, emphasising the vast overbearing nature of the Homebase development; much higher than that recommended in the Local Plan. Olga confirmed this issue by referring to the LBH Urban Context and Character document, which states that Gillette Corner is one of the most elevated parts of the Borough. How had topography been taken onto account?
Mr Warren began by stating that they did not accept the work of Mr Spence. Mr Patel noted that the development was a collection of five buildings, with a podium that related to the Gillette Building, stepping back from Syon Lane, taking account of the topography and ensuring that the Gillette Tower was ‘allowed to express itself’(!). Mr Warren stated that distance was important, not just the building heights.
Mohsen emphasised that the topography will accentuate the difference in height between the Homebase development and the surroundings, and that despite any concerns there may be about the accuracy of the model and the views, the difference is many multiples. The Inspector agreed. Olga asked how the building heights at the SE corner of the development had been arrived at, and why they exceeded the recommendations in the GWC Capacity Study. Mr Patel responded that they had responded to the characteristics of the surroundings, the Gillette Building, and the need to ‘mark the entrance’. Further, the buildings had been carefully distributed to achieve a balanced mass. The Inspector sought clarification: that they thought it was alright to go higher, and that the heights were appropriate. The developer agreed.
Olga pushed the point: The Capacity Study stated that its contents were material considerations, and that buildings should be ’no higher than…..etc.’. Mr Smith, for LBH, confirmed this, but stated that this ‘was not the be-all and the end-all’.
Barbara returned to the criticisms of accuracy aimed at Mike Spence’s photovisualisations, which he had robustly defended, and had further criticised the applicant’s views. During the consultation process in spring 2020, Barbara had taken over 150 photos of the sites from around the area and asked the developer for views to be superimposed on those they thought would be appropriate, including the Trees estate. Nothing had been forthcoming from the applicant. In addition, no views were provided from further away, eg Richmond Park and Harrow-on-the-Hill.
Barbara referred to views from both Mike Spence and the applicant from the A4 footbridge near PC World and the vicinity, which showed the huge bulk of the Homebase development, especially when compared to the Access Storage and Coty buildings. The Inspector noted that this was the same argument but restated from different viewpoints. Barbara acknowledged this, but drew attention to further views from Rothbury Gardens, Northumberland Avenue and the Wood Lane/A4 junction, which graphically showed the that the development was totally out of character. Mr Warren referred to views from the applicant which he stated cast doubt on Mike Spence’s views. Barbara emphasised the these were minor differences, which did not invalidate OWGRA’s opinion that the development was still too bulky.
Barbara moved on the Tesco site. She first referred to the LBH officers’ report which acknowledged that the Tesco proposals were high density and a series of tall buildings up to 17 storeys, and as such they were a step change compared to what was existing on the site and its surroundings, and which would be seen from a distance and would have an effect on the local heritage. She referred to the DRP report which expressed concern that the amount of residential proposed is too great for the site, and sought further reassurance that the submitted documents were explicit about the site constraints.
Mr Fenn, for the developer, noted that the constraints had previously been considered in the proofs of evidence, and disagreed with the DRP. Mr Warren drew attention to the LBH officers’ report which stated that everything had been taken into account and was judged to be acceptable. Barbara clarified that it might be more appropriate to say the developer had not ignored the DRP but disagreed with it.
Barbara drew attention to the DRP concerns on protecting heritage - that the proposals were an unremitting development, overbearing, and with no balance between the ground and the sky. Mr Fenn referred to the Design & Access Statement which clearly set out the nature of the building mix and public open spaces. Barbara reaffirmed that OWGRA’s views aligned closely with the views of the DRP, which consisted of experts with many years’ experience.
Barbara referred again to the conclusions of the DRP, which highlighted ‘fundamental concerns about the scheme, with many issues still to be addressed’, and urged the applicants and LBH to ‘take a step back and consider the overall quantum of the development’. The Inspector assumed that the developer again disagreed.
Barbara closed by turning to the photos of the 3D model, taken from up Syon Lane looking towards Gillette Corner, and Mike Spence’s views from Grasshoppers and Goals, which clearly showed the disparity in height – especially with regard to Oaklands Avenue, noting that the height and bulk of the development stood in stark negative contrast.
A short break was called.
Barbara then considered housing density (HD). As the application did not include HDs for the sites, OWGRA had calculated them. Across the two sites the HD was 314 homes per hectare, with Homebase being 338. This is much higher that the Local Plan recommendations and a step change from the surroundings. Even the recent developments in Hounslow and at Brentford, both near town centres and with good public transport were much lower density. The LBH officers’ report advised that such density was only appropriate near town centres with good transport links. Mr Roberts noted that the table did not take account of some of the schemes coming forward in the Opportunity Area, and that the London Plan recommendations were not formulaic, but the developments were ‘design led’. He was of the view that the developments were of the highest quality design. Mr Warren again referred to the disagreement over levels of public transport. Mohsen reiterated our stance on public transport and referred to the lived experience of local residents. This blogger begins to see a recurring theme – all recommendations are there to be ignored in the light of ‘balanced design’ or ‘site optimisation’!
Barbara disputed the reference to ‘high quality design’. The term was only ever used by the applicant – local residents had never used it; neither had the DRP with regard to the developments.
Turning to the Tesco site, Barbara noted that, again, that the HD of 308 homes per hectare was much higher than recommended and for other recent developments. There was a bare minimum of amenity space and the closeness of the blocks would have an adverse effect on the quality of life. Mr Warren had nothing to add to the previous comments about the Homebase site but referred to other future developments in the area that would have much higher HDs. Sheila pointed out that the future developments referred to were in areas of completely different character – industrial and commercial – and that more weight needed to be given to the suburban nature of our area. Barbara concluded our comments on density by referring to the 80s Wyke estate diagonally opposite, with its mix of dwellings. OWGRA had never objected to any development at all on the Tesco site but wished for a ‘21st century version of the Wyke estate’.
Barbara moved on to the 3D model. Despite many promises from the developer to produce one, it was not forthcoming. OWGRA commissioned one from a professional model-maker, at our own expense, based on OS maps, and was accurate and to scale, so that residents could better understand the proposals. Despite lockdown it had been exhibited in public on four occasions in late 2020, complying with Covid social distancing guidelines. Why had there been no applicant model? Mr Warren repeated his opinion that the model was wrong and that that the Inspector should approach it with caution. He admitted that they had not questioned the accuracy of the model throughout all the planning process until the Inquiry. Further, there was no requirement to produce a physical model, and that the 3D visualisation modelling was sufficient. Finally, he sought to diminish the value of a model in showing how developments will look from the ground.
Mohsen commented that the model had been available to view for several years, and clearly illustrated the bulk and height difference to the surroundings. It was indisputable! The virtual model which had appeared briefly on the developer’s Syon Lane Future website had several inaccuracies but was not included as evidence. The application had included photos of a 3D model produced for wind tunnel data which again showed the bulk and height in stark contrast with the surroundings. He concluded by saying the 3D models were valuable tools and continue to be used by architects and developers to show what buildings look like.
Barbara summed up by stating that many architects had complimented us on the 3D model, and that it clearly showed that the developments were completely out of character with the area.
The session ended.
(As an addendum Mohsen referred to the previous session on planning obligations. He urged that critical issue of the capacity of the electrical supply to the area, and traffic modelling of Northumberland Avenue should be included in the planning obligations.)
You can watch the proceedings of this day on Hounslow Council’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/c/LBHounslow