The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, have yet to decide if he will “call in” the application and take over the decision making, as he did with Newcombe House. If he does, it means that he isn’t satisfied with the council’s decision to refuse and/or hope to squeeze much more public benefits out of the developer. If he decides not to call in, the council’s decision will stand and the developer can then appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.
The current hotel was built 1971-1972, and was originally intended to become London’s first big airport hotel, which was why it was located opposite the large West London air terminal, opened in 1957, where BEA passengers checked in before being transported by bus to Heathrow. However, just as the hotel was opened, BEA announced that the air terminal check-in facilities would close by the end of 1973, so there was never any link established between the hotel and the air terminal (which today consists of Sainsbury and the Point West apartment complex).
The existing building is 92 metres high, has 28 storeys, and contains 906 hotel rooms plus restaurants and a large number of conference rooms. It is placed diagonally over the former city block, which before 1971 had residential buildings along Cromwell Road and Ashburn Place and a large garden square facing Astwood Road (today Ashburn Gardens) and Courtfield Road. As a consequence, most of the garden square disappeared when the hotel was built.
The proposed project places all buildings along Cromwell Road and Ashburn Place again, and thereby restores the garden square, which some in the area initially welcomed. However, the price for restoring the garden square will be a much larger complex, consisting of two bulky towers on top of a large 7 storey building, called “the podium” by the developer, which will run all along Ashburn Place.
The tower nearest Cromwell Road (23 floors on top of the 7 floor podium) will, together with 5 of the podium floors, house the hotel’s 749 guest rooms, while the tower directly behind it (15 floors on top of the podium), will, together with 5 of the podium floors, house the hotel’s 340 serviced flats for longer term guests.
Underneath these towers, the first two floors of the podium, as well as parts of the two basement floors, will house conference rooms, restaurants and gym. The total number of rooms and serviced flats let by the hotel will be 1,089, i.e. 340 more than what the current hotel has.
The southernmost part of the podium, at the corner of Ashburn Place and Courtfield Road, will have no tower above it. It will contain 46 residential flats, most of them with 2 or 3 bedrooms. Twenty-six of the flats will be full priced leaseholds, 9 will be intermediately affordable leaseholds (i.e. sold at up to 80% of full price), and the remaining 11 will be genuinely affordable rented (i.e. socially rented).
The roof of the highest tower will sit 102 metres above ground, while the roof of lower tower will sit 77 metres above ground. Ten metres higher than the current hotel, this will make it the highest building in the borough, four metres higher than Trellick Tower, which has held the RBKC height record since 1972.
The hotel will have a car stacker in the basement, with space for 48 cars. The stacker will be accessed through a car lift, and although the documentation states that it will be available for residents as well as hotel guests, in practice it will be for hotel guests only, as the lift and the stacker will only be handled by the hotel’s valet parking staff.
While the consultations with the local associations around the plans for Newcombe House in Notting Hill Gate must be seen as exemplary, there have been hardly any such consultations by the Kensington Forum developer, except for a very short period at the very early stages. This, combined with a surprising reluctance within the borough’s planning department to make a number of vital planning documents public, although they otherwise almost always are, helped to forge the local opposition against this project.
The plans received more than 890 objections and Kensington Society objected together with 17 local resident’s and garden associations, among them Ashburn Courtfield Gardens Residents Association (ACGRA), Victoria Road Area Residents Association (VARA), The Boltons Association, Nevern Square Conservation Area Residents’ Association (NSCARA), Earls Court Gardens and Morton Mews Residents Association, The Onslow Neighbourhood Association, and Princes Gate Mews Residents’ Association. There were also objections from four local councillors and Kensington’s MP, Emma Dent Coad.
With Sadiq Khan’s decision still unknown, and an almost certain appeal to come from the developer if Khan decides not to intervene, this project is far from decided yet. If, in the end, the developer would get a green light to go ahead, the development, according to the application, would take five years from start to finish.