Move the vertical slider to the right to see how the project will impact the view from the northern end of Brompton Cemetery. The tall already existing building in background is the Empress State Building (117 metres), which houses staff of the Metropolitan Police and was bought from Capco by the London mayor’s office in 2018. From late 2025 it will house a new joint counter terrorism centre for the police and the intelligence agencies. Pictures from the application.

Is 344-350 Old Brompton Road the first phase in new Earls Court plan?

On 15 January 2021, a planning application for redevelopment of 344-350 Old Brompton Road suddenly appeared on the RBKC planning site. This is a site next to the enormous wasteland left after the demolition of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre 2015-17. That site, as well as the exhibition site, is since 2019 owned by Delancey, following the collapse of the enormous project known as the Earl’s Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area. So, is this the first phase in a not yet publicised a plan to replace the wasteland with new and perhaps higher buildings than those previously planned? The developer says no, but others suspect that it is.

The application is for an alternative scheme on an enlarged site on Old Brompton Road, the southern border of the site. In 2015, planning permission was granted for housing on 348-350 Old Brompton Road in the first stage of development for the Capco’s master plan (see the history section below). The approved building, which conformed to the master plan parameters of three floors with a basement, would have 14 flats and a communal garden to the rear, facing the gardens of Eardley Road. Wrapped around and going into the site were two 2-floor (plus basement) townhouses with private garden, thus giving the site a total of 16 new homes. It’s important to remember Capco’s statement, that “the building transitions between the scale of the established context along Old Brompton Road and the larger scale of the Earls Court masterplan. The scale of the proposals has been tested in relevant townscape views from the neighbouring Philbeach Conservation Area and from Brompton Cemetery (Grade I registered landscaping, metropolitan open land which comprises both Grade II and II* buildings)” and “well scaled buildings frame near public space”.

The application is for 51 flats, consisting of 28 market rental flats and 23 flats which will be let based on “intermediate housing”, the most expensive type of “affordable housing”. Intermediate housing is regarded as social housing, as it’s only available for people on the council’s housing register (although Delancey will be managing them). No flats will be sold as leaseholds.

The number of flats for rent may appear to be 51% market and 49% affordable, but there is a catch: The Tournament pub had seven flats with a 106 Agreement for social housing. As those have been lost, the number of additional social housing flats will only be 16, which barely meets the minimum requirement of 35% affordable.

The previous consented building was significantly smaller and set well in the context. The height was 14.3m. The size of the site has now increased, with buildings filling the entire site with no garden space (just roof terraces for the market rental flats) and enlarged to squaring off the site to include the set back and angled corner of the Tournament site.  

The proposed buildings (22,800m³) are 2.5 times larger than the those that were approved in 2015 (8,600m³). Buildings over 30m are defined as tall and must respect the setting of the borough’s valued townscapes and should not exceed the prevailing building height. The west tower will be 34.5m (9 floors), while the east tower will be 23.5m (6 floors). This should be compared with surrounding 3-floor buildings and it will be 9m taller than the adjoining terrace buildings of Eardley Crescent.

The play area is proposed to be on the sixth floor, sandwiched between the towers. There is an obvious access issue with children having to take lift or stairs with toys, buggies and perhaps pets. The space is also too small, at only 72m². Delancey state in the application that there will be 142 possible residents, which should mean only 13 children, so therefore the space can be less that required in the London Plan of 10m² per child. In addition, that space is not a separate play area, but the amenity space for all the occupants of the buildings.

Where the old approved plan had open outdoor space, this application’s planting is limited to three trees in planters and a few plants on the private balconies. The access road on the west side appears to be the drive to the new housing but is, in fact, all construction vehicles into south site of the construction site.

The building on the previous master plan transitioned between the scale of the established context along Old Brompton Road and the larger scale of the approved Earls Court masterplan. ECDC have not yet disclosed what their new master plan will look like, but this  much larger building indicates that they may be planning something bigger and denser, with less open space and much taller than what was on the old master plan.

The public consultation for this application ends on 26 March and the planning committee is scheduled to make its decision on 16 April. If you want to submit your comments to the committee, here is the link to the application and its comments page.

A brief history on the Earl’s Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area

The plans for the 322,000 m² (79,6 acres) Earl’s Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area were first presented in March 2012 in a joint Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) by the boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) and Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). The other partners in the scheme were Transport for London (TfL), which owned (and still owns) most of the land, and the scheme developer Capital & Counties Properties Plc (Capco), which also held the exhibition site on a long lease from TfL. It was a very ambitious project, covering huge areas of land in both Kensington and Hammersmith and promising at least 4,000 new homes and 7,000 jobs in new offices and shops. On the Kensington side it mainly consisted of the exhibition centre, but on the Hammersmith side it would mean the demolition of the large West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, which are 760 homes for some 2,000 persons.

In 2013, the scheme’s master plan was approved and it received an outline planning consent. In 2014, the scheme partners agreed the package of community benefits, which is known as a “106 agreement”. As part of the agreement, Capco agreed to provide considerable public realm and community facilities including a primary school, a leisure centre, health facilities and community and cultural spaces within the thirty-seven acres site. Also promised were green open space built mainly over the rail line, including a five-acre park and improvements to the transport infrastructure including increased capacity at Earls Court, West Kensington and West Brompton Underground stations.

All looked good for Capco until the residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green fought and won a major battle to retain their homes. On 15 November 2019, LBHF agreed to refund the £100 million paid to Capco for the estates, in return for ending the legal agreement for their demolition.

In November 2019 Delancey agreed to purchase Capco’s share of the development. Delancey’s investors have now replaced Capco as TfL’s partners, and the newly formed Earls Court Development Company (ECDC) will oversee delivering what is being justifiably termed “the only major Zone 1 development area left in town”.

The site size has now shrunk to 101,000 m² (25 acres), so the question is what will be retained of the approved master plan from 2013? ECDC has in the press promised “a new approach” and in June 2020 two architect firms were contracted to design “a brand-new masterplan for the area”, according to the ECDC website. However, since then they have been very tight lipped about their plans. Their public consultation, at least with the Kensington Society, has been lacking.

Kensington Society was invited to a meeting with ECDC in December 2020, but this was changed to a virtual meeting in late January 2021 with their new CEO, Rob Heasman. There was much talk about the “new approach”, but although questioned about it, there were no revelations about the elephant in the room or on the screen. Basically, it was just a nice chat. Then, as the meeting was ending, they added that they had forgot to mention that they recently, i.e. already, had applied for planning permission for a site at the south end of the site. That was all, no further discussion. They didn’t even reveal what was being proposed.

Picture from Google Earth, taken in April 2020, which shows what the vast site of the former Earls Court Exhibition Centre looks like now. The area edged in red at the bottom of the picture, is the site for the planned buildings on 344-350 Old Brompton Road. The dark grey paths on the beige wasteland are covers over the railway tracks in and out of Earls Court tube station. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

This shows what the proposed lower building would look like from Eardley Crescent. Picture from the application.

This shows what the site looked like in 2015, shortly before the pub at the back was demolished. The two buildings in the foreground were still in use in 2019. Picture from Google Street View.

This map shows the extent of the vast Earls Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area, which’s grand plans met an abrupt end on 28 February 2018, when the Hammersmith & Fulham council, now with a Labour majority, revoked the plans and then paid back the money it had received for the two housing estates. The different colours show who owned what. “C and C” stands for Capital & Counties Properties, i.e. Capco. What Delancey bought from Capco in 2019 was the leasehold of the yellow area, the former exhibition centre, where the freehold owner is TfL. Picture from the 2012 SPD.

This is what the buildings approved in 2015 would have looked like. Picture from the 2015 application.

First published 17/03/2021