His decision, following a ten-day public inquiry in January-February 2020, was expected in mid March, but the Covid-19 lockdown delayed this as so many other things in society.
The much debated luxury development, described as “caviar care” by some, was approved by the RBKC planning committee in November 2018, in spite of objections from the Kensington Society and a majority of resident associations in the area. As it is a major development, it also had to be approved by the London mayor’s office – and in April 2019 City Hall refused it, as the mayor’s office regards the entire development to be use class C3 (self-contained single household homes), and as such it should include 35% affordable housing.
At the public inquiry in January-February, local residents challenged the loss of a major educational facility, a social and community asset, and the impact on listed buildings and the conservation area. The council did not appear at the inquiry to defend their approval in November 2018.
A major feature of the development will be a large raft over the railway, and the 5-year construction period of the project will have a massive impact on the area, due to the scale of construction traffic. There was also concern at the inquiry that the extra-care housing is aimed at the top end of the housing market and should have included more affordable housing, especially affordable extra-care units.
The Kensington Society supported the local residents’ case and was equally concerned about the loss of this major education site – one of the last in the borough – to luxury housing. This was precisely what the council’s local plan policy was meant to prevent.
In his 48 page report, the inspector states that the benefits of the scheme outweigh any harms to heritage or any policy conflicts, and concludes that “However tempting it might be to seek to apply economic criteria to planning decisions in the interest of greater socio- economic equality, in the context of this case, there is no development plan policy basis for doing so. Accordingly, I conclude there is no basis for excluding the proposed use from social and community uses, and indeed that it would maintain and contribute to the mixed and balanced community within the borough.”
The report is mainly focused on whether the scheme could support more affordable housing, comparing the developer’s calculations against City Hall’s. However, he also did consider very seriously the scale and nature of the construction traffic, and specifically acknowledged that this was a critical issue which needs to be resolved if the project is to proceed.
There are still a number of issues to be sorted out, including listed building consent and various construction and environmental management plans.
If the project does go ahead, the prospect for the next five or six years is daunting. Residents face a long period of demolition, excavation and construction, including building over the railway, with as many as 100 lorry movements a day in the peak period travelling a third of a mile through residential backstreets.