Thursday, 15 December 2011

King St: H&F Council suffers defeat at City Hall

Boris has bashed the King Street redevelopment, possibly for good. In a dramatic and, for our Council, a pretty humiliating turn of events today the Mayor's Office refused to grant permission to the scheme that our Council had railroaded over the heads of local people, despite hundreds protesting on numerous occasions.

In fact the GLA's press office sent the Save our Skyline protest group the following one-line press sentence this morning: "the GLA has withdrawn the stage two referral concerning the application". Eleven words that may spell the end for the controversial development that would have seen two towers of luxury flats dominating the skyline, the cineworld cinema being torn down and a home for blind people being demolished.

All of which was pushed through at midnight in front of hordes of angry residents at the now infamous H&F Planning Committee. As a result of the GLA's refusal, our Council have withdrawn the application.

The GLA bombshell announcement comes just 24 hours after the protest outside City Hall that featured Vanessa Redgrave and coincided with Mayor's Question Time in the chamber - watch scenes of that protest above, while you can see a pic of the indomitable campaigners below

If you look at the GLA's official guidelines for "strategic planning applications", under which this was submitted by our Council, it clearly states the following:

"The Planning Decisions Unit will acknowledge receipt of this notification and confirm the date by which the Mayor’s decision will be provided; this will be 14 days from receipt of all relevant documentation"

"The Mayor’s decision (commonly known as stage II) will take the form of an officer’s report to the Mayor and a letter from the Mayor"

I have been talking to a spokesperson from Save our Skyline today, who has told me this: 
"Our legal opinion says that, if the referral has been withdrawn, 'then it is difficult to see how the development can proceed on the basis of the current permission, since a referral is mandatory and the Mayor must make his decision within 14 days of receiving notice of the authority's provisional planning decision'". 
"We really have to wait until we get an official announcement".
And so they do, but at the moment the writing on the wall spells out a large word for H&F Council, which is "listen" - not something they have done a great deal of over this application. It will also not have gone unnoticed by those opposing other unpopular developments such as that of Shepherd's Bush Market.

Speculation will centre on the fact that the proposed redevelopment contradicted the Mayor's own London Plan, and the most likely scenario is that it was made clear to our Council that it would be turned down on those grounds - so they withdrew instead. 

It is not the first time that residents have stopped our local authority in their tracks - the success of a local campaign against the closure of a Sure Start centre, along with the victory of the Ashchurch Grove residents spring to mind. It may be that with a new Leader of the Council who doesn't approach residents with the listening skills of a sherman tank we don't have to see so much of this Council versus residents battle in future - hope springs eternal.

FRIDAY UPDATE - The local press have brought up the rear, catching up with the story here.  

FRIDAY 1330 UPDATE - The Council have given me the following statement:

"We understand that the Mayor and a number of local residents have concerns about the height of the proposed buildings and their impact on views from riverside properties. Hammersmith & Fulham Council has agreed to work with the GLA on a further independent rigorous assessment on viability to determine whether there is scope to reduce the height of the buildings again. At the same time the Council will continue to progress the S106 planning obligation agreements."

FRIDAY 1600 UPDATE - I understand from more than one well-placed mole in a very good position to know what they are talking about that this decision has been shelved until after the Mayoral elections in May 2012. What that means is simply that Boris *will* give permission for some version of this scheme to go ahead, but only after the election to avoid losing votes. This being the case, you can expect the Labour and LibDem campaigns to focus in on this relentlessly between now and then with some kind of "vote for us to save King Street" line. I really don't think it's going to be enough to stop the electoral damage this is likely to do to Conservative prospects, but it's interesting that Boris felt exposed enough on the issue to take this drastic step, which has left his own allies running our Council looking more than a little foolish.

FRIDAY 1700 UPDATE - As if to underline the above update I have just received the following statement from Labour Leader of the Opposition on H&F Council Stephen Cowan:
"I understand that the GLA was going to refuse this scheme so H&F Council pleaded with Boris to let them withdraw it instead. This will allow them to bring an amended version back at some future point without the public seeing all of the GLA's criticisms. This would presumably happen after the Mayoral election. So sadly this isn't VE day, it's more like D Day instead. But the Conservative Administration now needs to rip up these plans, drop their £35m office project and agree to protect the cinema, the park, the skyline and the homes they were going to demolish. They should use this opportunity to start fresh talks with residents about what might work best. That's what I will do if the Conservatives haven't granted a further permission by 1st May 2014 - should Labour win control of the Council".

"This is a victory for common-sense and resident power. I couldn't find a single person out of over 400 that attended the Planning Meeting who did not have utter contempt for what they had just witnessed. Conservative councillors asked planted questions and then block voted the scheme through. That happened after four hours of their nervous officials' justifications. Those had included some of the shoddiest and most fanciful so called 'evidence' I've ever heard at a council meeting - and that's saying something. This vindicates the views of all that opposed it".

"We must understand exactly what concerns the GLA raised about this project. Those need to be published and so the Conservative Administration avoids ever proposing anything similar".

"There also needs to be an enquiry into the money that's been wasted on this scheme. Senior Conservative councillors and their officials have been working on it since 2006. They've spend millions of tax pounds on consultants, trips abroad to meet property speculators and time putting this together. On top of that they were in the process of offering property speculators well over £70m of public land to make this scheme go through. The GLA has stopped it at it's first hurdle outside of the Administration's control". 

"This is all a gargantuan mess-up that raises a series of questions about all those that worked on it and those Conservative councillors that voted to give it planning permission in the first place."
UPDATE Tuesday 20th December - coming rather late to the party Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh has now offered this muted statement on the H&F Conservative Party blog. Entitled "Boris and H&F must find a way forward for King Street regeneration" Mr Greenhalgh argues that:
"We remain fully committed to this scheme to regenerate King Street. We believe it represents an opportunity to enhance the environment, protect the interest of the council taxpayer, promote local businesses and provide new homes. There have already been changes to reduce the height of the proposed buildings but we understand that the Mayor and a number of local residents remain concerned about this and in particular, the impact on the views from riverside properties. So Hammersmith & Fulham Council has agreed to work with the GLA on a further independent rigorous assessment to see whether it would be financially viable to proceed with a further reduction in height."


  1. Great news. Like you say, Shepherd's Bush and West Ken estate next, please!

  2. Fantastic news - gives one hope that the plan to demolish 790 dwellings on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates won't go ahead despite the £15 million sweetener Capco (the proposed developers) have put on the table

  3. Fantastic news - but I've found 2 versions, that Boris stopped the referal (yours) and that the council withdrew it, perhaps only temporarily (the Hammersmith Local website). Which is true? Remember residents have been opposing this for years before it was forced through. Less than 2 weeks' later the Leader of the Council resigns. More to come, I suspect, especially after the Mayoral elections next year.

  4. It's all part of the plan, Aunt Sally.

  5. I never wanted to leave my cave anyway.

  6. Fantastic news - well done to all who campaigned.

  7. "The protest proceeded a plea from a Grainger and Helical Bar spokesman that the community should 'respect' the decision of the council to give the application the green light."

    What a nice development company...

  8. Grainger and Helical are still pushing their claim that residents supported the plan during their 'consultation events'. In reality they only consulted on the square planned for in front of the town hall. When I and others asked what buildings were planned around the square, they claimed not to know, became angry and pressed us to leave.

  9. A trail blazing council...? What a wretched way to run the business of organising a new Town Hall extension. Such a huge waste of money and effort on all parts. There has to be a better way of harnessing all that energy to make a more constructive approach rather than waste it in adversarial standoffs. Too much top-down rather than bottom up and some genuine listening, not formulaic 'consulting' when minute details are changed. It's a mess, a farce that we could all (well most of us) see coming.

  10. The proposed area of redevelopment is currently a windswept dump with its shop owners desperately crying out for regeneration. As for the skyline - its London; there's no reason the new, taller architectural structures can't be made to sit with the old in harmonious unity.

  11. I would not call 15 storeys harmonious and it will become a force gale wind walking along king street with many shops and cafes no longer having any direct sun light.

  12. The development and regeneration will go ahead but with due amendments.

    This is not a cancellation.


  13. I think the electorate may have a large say in that, come May 2012!

  14. Yes they will. But not in the way you want.

    Examine who was actually protesting. A tiny clique has stopped hundreds of new homes being built, condemned the centre of Hammersmith to perpetual decline & given landowners a good reason to let their property languish & deteriorate until the situation is resolved.

    For the time being.

    Good luck.

  15. I'm not involved in the campaign, so not sure why you wish me good luck but thanks anyway. My issue was how the majority of local people (not a "tiny clique" as you must know) were simply ignored.

    Others, including English Heritage among others, had their own reasons for opposing it.

    So, er, good luck back!

  16. There's local, and very local.

    But good luck anyway Chris. We all enjoy your blog so don't go away.

  17. Yes. The very local and the very vocal.

    Then there's thousands of people who are waiting for somewhere decent to live, want to get to the river without trudging through a filthy underpass and would like to have town centre that doesn't look like its on its last legs.

    Great. Thanks a lot. We've got to wait another few years now because the whole thing is on hold. A hollow victory I would say.

  18. Actually king street is doing well compared to most uk high streets.The ones which are struggling are the ones which give bad service or offer uninspiring products. Offer something different and make the shop front inviting and there is already a huge local population. Another axample is Askew road. Building tower blocks full of people is not the answer

  19. Tories at each other's throats... Rapture !

  20. Sounds like residents at each other's throats to me. People who want homes built and people who want homes built, but somewhere else.

  21. The band of people who came together did so because of their own interests in other areas - they are not a majority of those who live in Hammersmith. Many shopowners want the change. A highrise here would not over power too many buildings. The cinema is ugly from the outside and most locals go to Shepherds Bush now. The underpass is a dangerous, dirty way to get to Furnival Gardens. All underpasses are ideal muggers paradises - A bridge would not have taken up that much space and the only think I am against is the Pocklington flats - if they provided adapted flats close by or nearer to amenities then this would be fair. The 15 stories could come down to about 9 though. Either way Hammersmith is going down and it needs building up as long as we were not paying for it and the Developers foot the bill. There needs to be more sticking to rules and less secrecy all round but all these little groups that band together are no better in their behaviour of bullying tactics towards others half the time.........agree with them or be shunned

  22. The Council has neglected its own Town Hall extension ever since it was built 40 years ago. No other property owner would think of getting someone else to sort out a mess of their own making. If the Council want new offices they should pay out for them of their own pocket, not by forcing local people to accept a massive overdevelopment including the demolition of valuable existing buildings (homes for the blind and the local cinema) and the wrecking of Furnivall Gardens to provide a "private access" to a "riverside garden" for the luxury flats. It is an outrageous and utterly shameful high-handed scheme to satisfy (1) the vanity of the Leader of the Council and (2) the desire for his own comfort of the bullying Director of Environment (though he has recently moved to Kensington and Chelsea and changed title to Director for Transport - he is already in more luxurious accommodation, I think)