Newcombe House hearing in February 2017
Following a decision by the outgoing Mayor of London’s on 29 April 2016, to allow the council to decide the Newcombe House application itself (i.e. to let the council’s planning committee’s surprising refusal in March stand), the developer, as expected, lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate only a few days later, on 3 May.
In their appeal, Notting Hill Gate KCS Ltd asked the inspectorate for a full 4-day public inquiry, stating that “a public inquiry is without question the appropriate forum when so many interested parties are involved.”
The date for the planning inspector’s public hearing has been set to 14 February 2017. The hearing will be held in the Town Hall’s council chamber and is expected to take four days.
Accompanying the London Mayor’s decision was a letter from the Greater London Authority, advising the council that it had been in contact with Notting Hill Housing Trust regarding the loss of the 20 bedsits in Royston Court, and that the NHHT had confirmed that the loss of the bedsits would be compensated in the form of 10 two-bedroom unites that would be created through the trust’s purchase and repair programme. Through this programme the trust buys properties on the open market and turn them into new affordable homes. “This should ensure that there would be no overall net loss if social rented floorspace in London, as required by London Plan Policy 3.14“, the GLA letter concludes.
Following a late but intensive internet campaign against the large Newcombe House project, the council’s planning committee decided on 17 March 2016 to refuse the application, although the planning department had recommended it should be granted. The committee’s main reasons for refusal were stated to be the height of the tallest building, which would be contrary to three policies in the London Plan as well as six policies in the council’s local plan, and the loss of social rented floorspace, which would be contrary to the London Plan Policy 3.14. The loss of social rented floorspace refers to 20 bedsits in one of the current buildings in the complex, Royston Court, which has been sold to the developers by Notting Hill Housing Trust, which in turn has promised to relocate the tenants to other sites that the trust owns.
The surprising refusal was a direct parallel to what happened with the second Odeon application in January 2015. That one had also had been supported by the planning department, but after a big public campaign the committee decided to refuse.
The Newcombe House complex covers the large 46m high Newcombe House office building at the corner of Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Church Street (with Waterstone’s on the ground floor); the buildings along the western side of Kensington Church Street, down to and including the Kensington Place restaurant and fish shop; and the large car park between the Kensington Church Street buildings and the platform roof of Notting Hill Gate underground station, where the farmers’ market puts up its stalls on Saturdays.
The plan means that all these buildings would be torn down. Newcombe House and the open area directly north of it would be replaced by a building designed to appear as a group of four, whereof two parts would much lower than today (18m), one slightly higher (55m), and one significantly higher (72m). The buildings along Kensington Church Street would be replaced by two new four-floor buildings, and a further two three-floor buildings would be erected along the tube station platform roof. In between, there would be a public square where the farmers’ market would be reinstated on Saturdays after construction. The ground floor in seven of the eight buildings would be set aside for 14 shops and restaurants. Above ground floor there would be 4,500m² of offices and 46 flats, most of them with two or three bedrooms. In addition there would be a large 900m² GP surgery, with nine doctors serving 18,000 patients, in the main building complex.
The application was supported by the farmers’ market, the West London NHS Commissioning Group, the Notting Hill Gate Improvements Group, and Kensington Society and some of the local residents’ associations. Kensington Society and the residents’ associations would normally never publicly support an application, but felt that these plans, after intensive local consultations, on balance provided enough important public benefits – such as the retention of the farmers’ market, the public car-free space, a step-free access to one side of the District and Circle lines’ platform, and the large GP surgery – to offset the negative aspects, such as the high, narrow tower.