Newcombe House called in by Brokenshire

On 14 March, the housing secretary, James Brokenshire, announced that he was calling in the application for the revised Newcombe House scheme, which London mayor Sadiq Khan approved in September 2018, following two refusals by the RBKC planning committee (in March 2016 and January 2018), with a Planning Inspectorate decision and a revised application in between.

The call-in procedure means that Brokenshire and the Planning Inspectorate (which works under him) will look at the application and all arguments for and against it (which includes a public hearing), and will then either overrule Khan’s approval or support it.

The call-in has been expected ever since Brokenshire issued a holding direction in December 2018, which prevented work to begin until he had decided if he would call in the application.

Interested parties can submit comments to the Planning Inspectorate until 14 May, but no date has yet been set for the public hearing.

As the planning inspector largely approved of the very first Newcombe House application in 2017, but decided to dismiss the developer’s appeal against the council’s refusal as he felt that the developer could improve on the affordable housing element, and as the second application addressed that issue and the revised application approved by Khan improved the affordable housing element even further, a Brokenshire refusal backed by the Planning Inspectorate would require the Inspectorate to revert its previous position.

However, it is possible that Brokenshire will refuse even if the Planning Inspectorate approves. That’s what happened in December 2018, when he refused a large development in Purley, stating “serious concerns” about the design as his reason, although the development had been approved by Croydon council’s planning committee, by Sadiq Khan and by the Planning Inspectorate. In March, however, Brokenshire accepted that his decision letter regarding the Purley development should be nulled, as a High Court ruling had found his reason for refusing to be “inadequate”.

According to some housing experts, Brokenshire’s decision to call in the Newcombe House plans is part of an ongoing party political battle between him and Khan, where Brokenshire tends to intervene whenever Khan takes decisions which go against the wishes of Tory councillors or MPs.

A nighttime view of the planned Newcombe House complex, from the corner of Kensington Mall and Kensington Church Street. Picture courtesy of Brockton Capital and U+I.

View northward of the three buildings that would replace Newcombe House, with the current building (blue) superimposed onto them, which shows the difference in height and massing. Picture created from drawings in the application.

Published 10/05/2019