Monday, 19 March 2012

Imperial West development: controversy and tall buildings

Residents view from Oxford Gardens
Residents on both sides of the H&F/K&C divide continue to be up in arms about the proposed Imperial West development, as the prospect of yet more tall buildings - a 30 storey monster on the next door Dairy Crest site for example - loom into view alongside the 10 storey ones already in place on the White City Opportunity Area. The plans have been dubbed as giving rise to the "Twin Towers" of the Bush.

Central to the plans for Imperial Colleges’ new campus on the site, which it purchased for £28 million, is housing facilities for 600 postgraduate students. Plans have already been approved for this and construction work is underway, with the College predicting they’ll be ready for occupation in ‘Autumn 2012’.

But as you can see from the very defensively worded FAQ section of Imperial College’s website they acquired the site to provide student accommodation and academic buildings – which is fair enough – but what they don’t talk about so much is that they are now seeking planning permission for commercial offices, a hotel and a 110 metre tall block of flats.

This, along with the Council’s plans to build up to 4,500 homes and several other facilities on the land has led residents who will be living in the shadow – quite literally – of the schemes which collectively make up the “White City Opportunity Area” less than impressed. They are particularly worried about the centre piece of the development – a very tall tower indeed.

'Poor Man's Shard' viewed from the South
The proposed skyscraper, providing luxury apartments with views across the capital, would be even taller than Trellick Tower, the West London tower block which is all the way over in Westbourne Park/Ladbroke Grove but can be seen clearly from W12.

Imperial College seems to be taking advantage of wider proposals for the White City Opportunity Area, which are still subject to consultation and approval. Opponents argue that the scale of the scheme does not respect the nearby residential streets. They believe the plans are being rushed through in advance of the Mayoral elections in May and before a new local planning framework is consulted on and approved.This is an accusation made by numerous others in Hammersmith & Fulham – those in West Kensington and Shepherd’s Bush Market, for example.

Residents groups are concerned that the planned tower will create a precedent, leading to a barricade of tall buildings being built along the border between Hammersmith and Kensington. Another developer has already submitted an initial application for permission for a 30-storey building on the adjacent Dairy Crest site. And departing Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who has a penchant for property developers building very tall buildings, is taking on a “special” role overseeing the area’s development. So the signs for residents aren’t good, frankly.

In the shadow of the Shard - projected shade cast by luxury flat tower over W12 & K&C
Houses in neighbouring Kensington and Chelsea will be among those worst affected. The planned 35-storey tower and a number of other buildings of 7-13 storeys will dominate the skyline to the west of North Kensington as well as the Bush. Those opposed to the tower have dubbed it the "poor man's shard", in reference to the other giant that looms up from London Bridge now.

Henry Peterson, chair of the St Helens Residents Association, says this:
“Hammersmith and Fulham Council planners seem preoccupied with an irrational desire to build tall towers to create a ‘gateway to London’ but we see no evidence of local demand for this type of development. Imperial College is selling the benefits of this as an academic campus but it transpires that they are looking for a very large commercial return and many residents feel that they have been misled.”
They have launched a petition against the scheme which you can find here and recently gained coverage in the Evening Standard and elsewhere.

This all gives me a real sense of deja-vu as it is pretty much next door to the Westfield development and I remember well talking to residents of Macfarlane Road and others about the way they felt voiceless in the face of the Westfield behemoth. Now it appears the giant is a property developer dressed in the clothes of an academic medical institution, but behaving no less aggressively for that.

Having been speaking to the residents of the campaign, however, I wouldn’t say it’s a done deal just yet. They are highly motivated and understand the politics of both H&F and K&C very well - and of course Boris was eventually forced to put the King Street development on ice. I would imagine Ken Livingstone might be receiving votes from some normally fairly Conservative areas in this part of West London in May – and it wouldn’t be the first time our Council’s love-in with property developers has cost a Conservative candidate dear.

Watch this space.

1 comment:

  1. Given that the Central,Circle and H&C lines are pretty crammed at White City and Shepherds Bush, I would be very concerned about the transport over-crowding issues that all these additional thousands of residents and workers will create.