Newcombe House appeal dismissed for lack of affordable housing
On 12 June 2017, Inspector David Nicholson published his decision to dismiss the developer’s appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against the council’s 2016 refusal to approve the planning application for the Newcombe House complex at the corner of Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Church Street. The decision came four months after the inspector’s four day public inquiry in Town Hall in February.
The inspector says in his decision that he sees no reason to object to the height, size or design of the project, and he welcomes the public amenities it would result in. However, he feels that the loss of 20 affordable studio flats for former rough sleepers in Royston Court (the building at the corner of Kensington Church Street and Kensington Place, with the Kensington Place restaurant on the ground floor) would be unacceptable as long as something similar isn’t provided on site or at least within the borough.
His conclusion on the character, appearance and design of the project, is that the result would be “a convincing ensemble” that would comply with the policies for such matters in the London Plan, the national planning policy framework and the council’s consolidated local plan.
Regarding the project’s settings and views from the surrounding conservation areas, he finds that it would cause some harm in some views, but also some enhancement in other views, which, when weighed together, would put the project “well below the hurdle for substantial harm”. He also feels that the impact on neighbouring residents, specifically those living in Hillgate Village, “would not be unacceptable.”
Regarding the public benefits promised in the plans – a new square which would house the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, a primary health care centre, step-free access to the Underground, and a strategy to fill the retail units with small independent high-quality local shops and restaurants – he finds the benefits of the redevelopment to be “substantial” and that the benefits support the council’s vision for Notting Hill Gate.
However, he questions the financial claims used to defend the lack of on-site affordable housing: “On the evidence at the Inquiry, including the limited further submissions, this loss could not be justified on the grounds of viability. Ordinarily, the balance to be made from the above findings would be between the harm through the loss of social housing and the long list of benefits. However, I consider that a scheme along the same lines as that proposed, but which either retained social housing on-site or a more substantial contribution to off-site AH [affordable housing] within the Borough, or both, using a realistic EUV [existing use value], probably would be viable and have most or all of the same advantages.”
He concludes: “Given that it should therefore be possible to deliver most of the positive effects of the scheme without the total loss of on-site social housing, I find that this issue is determinative. Since dismissing the appeal for this reason should not necessarily prevent the development going ahead in its current form, but would only delay it slightly, I give little weight to the concern that the benefits of redevelopment of the site would be lost. While the proposed contribution might technically satisfy London Plan Policy 3.14, the proposals would be clearly at odds with CLP [consolidated local plan] policy CH3b and, as other policies could be met by an otherwise identical scheme which retained some on-site social housing, contrary to the development plan as a whole.”
In layman terms, this means that the inspector thinks that the project would be totally acceptable if only the loss of the social housing was compensated. either on site or through a larger contribution to affordable housing elsewhere in the borough than the £7 million agreed. And he believes that the project could afford this.
So, what happens now? Will the developer resubmit the application with revisions that satisfy the inspector’s demand for a better affordable housing solution, or will the site be sold off to another developer who will then make another attempt? Time will tell.
To read the inspector’s decision in full, please click this link.
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 had promised to relocate the tenants to other sites that the trust owns.
On 3 May 2017, the developer, Notting Hill Gate KCS Ltd, lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate against the council’s refusal. The Inspectorate assigned David Nicholson to assess the appeal, and on 14-17 February 2017 he held a public inquiry in the Kensington & Chelsea Town Hall, where the developer and the council, as well as various local associations, presented their arguments for or against the proposal.
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.