As the council’s planning committee refused this second application on 31 January (just as they refused the first application in March 2016), there would be no need for him act if he agrees with the council – but in a letter informing the council of his decision, he clarifies that he does not agree. He writes that “In my view the proposed development has the potential to make an important contribution to the delivery of an accessible and inclusive underground and rail transport network in response to London Plan Policies 3.1 and 6.1; and to the vitality of the town centre, with a modern GP surgery, offices, retail farmers’ market and housing, in line with London Plan Policies 2.15, 3.3, 3.11, 3.16, 3.17, 4.2. 4.7 and 4.8. Having regard to the above and noting the potential contribution of the proposed development, I wish to fully consider this case by becoming the local planning authority.”
Step-free access and GP surgery major benefits
Khan’s letter focuses on three things: the provision of step-free access to Notting Hill Gate tube station’s eastbound platform, the provision of a large GP surgery, and the provision of affordable housing on site. He sees the Newcombe House project as a vital element in the fulfilment of the London Plan, especially the provision of step-free access, stresses the need for the GP surgery, and feels that the affordable housing contribution is satisfactory. It is rather obvious from the letter that he feels the council has mishandled the project, by rejecting the application instead of improving some details through conditions and ensuring that the project becomes reality.
He writes: “It is considered that the proposed development, in terms of its potential to promote provide transport infrastructure (step free access) to improve connectivity and accessibility for persons with mobility problems at NHG Underground Station in particular, are such that, if approved, it would have an important and a significant impact on the implementation of the adopted London Plan (in line with the test set out in Article 7(1)(a) of the Order 2008). The application would also contribute towards the provision of health care facilities, modern retail and office floorspace and public markets in London in line with the London Plan. As such, it is considered that the test set out within Article 7(1)(a) of the 2008 Order is met.”
While the council argued that the application should be rejected because it provides fewer affordable housing units than was on the site previously, Khan notes that the amount of habitable rooms will actually increase by almost 50% (from 20 to 27) and will be of a much higher standard.
Criticises the council for lack of affordable housing
He also takes the opportunity to criticise the council for its extremely poor result in providing the borough with affordable housing. The borough housing target for the past four years was 2,635 homes in total, whereof 986 affordable. However, while 3,018 homes received planning application approval in that period (i.e. more than the target), only 280 of those were affordable. In 2016-2017 only 9 affordable homes were approved, while 402 non-affordable were approved.
Khan states that RBKC “has consistently failed to meet the targets for overall additional homes and affordable units. Applying the target for affordable housing sought in the London Plan, the delivery of new affordable homes also falls considerably short”, and adds that the proposed 9 affordable units in the Newcombe House project “though small in total, represents 39% of the total number of affordable units delivered in the Borough during 2016-2017 and 2011-2012, and more than the 4 affordable units completed within the whole Borough in financial year 2012-2013. The scheme would therefore make a reasonable contribution to the Borough’s affordable housing targets.”
GLA satisfied with the affordable housing contribution
The letter reveals that several months before the council took its decision, GLA (Greater London Authority) planning officers “robustly interrogating the applicant’s financial viability assessment and supplementary documents” and “were satisfied that the 17.3% by habitable rooms was the maximum level of affordable housing the scheme could deliver. The Council, however, has listed the loss of social rented homes within the borough and dissatisfaction with the approach to developing the site to provide the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing as a reason for refusal.”
The letter states that the affordable housing offer “accords with London Plan Policy 3.14, draft London Plan Policy H10 and the Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG”, while the council argued that the amount of affordable housing would be contrary to London Plan policy 3.14.
While the letter indicates that the GLA is satisfied with most things in the application, it wants to see “additional measures aimed at achieving carbon reductions” and states that “the residential car parking should be reduced.”
Public hearing before decision
Sometime during the summer or early autumn, the mayor’s office will arrange a public hearing, probably in Kensington Town Hall, and some time after that the mayor will announce his decision.
Judging from the letter, it seems pretty clear that Sadiq Khan intends to approve the application after having squeezed a few further concessions from the developer; a path he feels that the council should have taken instead of refusing the application once again and delaying this project even further.