Friday 18 March 2022
Day 4 started with OWGRA’s only expert witness, Mike Spence, a leading independent consultant in photo visualisation (PV): in this case the representation of proposed developments in photographs for use in the planning process.
OWGRA’s Barbara Stryjak introduced Mr Spence, who outlined his background of wide experience in photography, surveying and geographic information system (GIS). He has developed the ‘industry standard’ for PV. His work regarding tall buildings is not partisan and is aimed at providing objective evidence and visualisation to show accurately what developments would look like.
Barbara took him through his proof of evidence by careful and detailed questioning. The crux of his evidence is that it appeared that much the PV submitted by the applicant was produced with inappropriate lenses, tripod and positioning, without geographic software, and not following current guidance. Images were not presented clearly enough, and shadow analysis was missing. He had produced 3D aerial imagery which showed the dramatic extent of the development. He particularly poured scorn on the assertion in the Townscape Visual Impact Assessment (TVIA) that, apart from during construction, any impacts would be beneficial or neutral. He noted that in the TVIA it stated that the impact on Oaklands Avenue would be ‘considered beneficial’!
He then focused on the so-called ‘Canaletto View’ – the view of Syon House from across the river at Kew – showing that the views submitted by the applicant minimised the mass of the development rising above the roof line of the House.
Finally, he was critical of the fact that the applicant’s two PV consultants were not present at the Inquiry to defend their technical methodology.
Mr Warren, QC for the applicant, started his cross-examination by referring to the recent ‘Chiswick Curve’ planning inquiry, where Mr Spence had represented LBH in opposition to the development. The Inspector found that the extent to which the visualisations were misleading was not significant. Mr Spence responded that if they had been carried out properly, the same conclusions may not have been reached. Mr Warren suggested that the Canaletto View visualisations were correct, and that Mr Spence had subjectively used 3D modelling and that his image of Syon House and the development was not accurate, but throughout Mr Spence robustly defended his position and stated that there was limited or no evidence regarding the applicant’s methodology.
The day finished with evidence from the applicant’s arboricultural consultant, Julian Forbes-Laird. He took the inquiry through the report on his tree census of Syon Park. There were 56 individual trees, 530 in 23 groups and 3.3 hectares of woodland. Part of the site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 50 of the trees were present on the 1864 OS map. There was a wide range of ages, some new planting and some in excess of 350 years old, and generally in good health. The majority will live out their allotted span, and there is a programme of new planting and management of individual trees. The majority will put on moderate to considerable growth. Mr Lyness, QC for Historic England, cross-examining, sought some clarification regarding the management masterplan, and Mr Forbes-Laird confirmed the continuing conservation of the SSSI, and preservation of the current aesthetic rather than creating new vistas. This evidence was aimed to prove that the trees would still be there and the implication was that the trees would hide the views of the proposed towers for many decades, but Mr Spence’s evidence from earlier in the day showed that the developments would still be seen above the tree line from Kew.
For OWGRA, Barbara asked Mr Forbes-Laird whether he could be certain that trees would not be affected by future storms. He replied that certainty was not possible given the variable factors involved, but on the balance of probability he was confident. In the recent storms, only one weakened tree had been lost. Barbara asked if he could be certain that the trees would not be affected by current or new pathogens. He replied that survey had shown a low incidence of pathogens across the site, and that the broad range of genera and species gave the tree population a robustness.
Thus, the day, and the week, ended.
We felt the week had gone well for us, considering that most of us are novices to public inquiries, don’t have the advantage of legal counsel, and are in a David v Goliath situation. Next week there will be 3 days devoted to heritage matters and 2 days to roundtable discussions about public transport, roads, infrastructure, environmental aspects, character and appearance, housing mix and living conditions (eg overshadowing, green space, etc).
You can watch a recording of the proceedings via this link:
We have prepared an index of the proceedings that will let you directly access individual contributions. You can access the index for Day 4 here