Cromwell Road looking east. The current Kensington Forum hotel (left) is the second highest building in the borough with its 92 metres. The developers want to replace it with a building complex (right) where the highest part is 102 metres, which would make it the highest in the borough. Pictures from the application. (Click to enlarge)

Kensington Forum development approved by City Hall – again

As expected, on the second mayoral hearing, on 22 October 2020, and in spite of a strong joint case put up against this development, the deputy mayor, Jules Pipe, decided to approve the plan to replace Kensington Forum Hotel with two huge towers on a massive plinth. This is, of course, subject to certain conditions and whether the housing secretary decides to call in the case.

The plan to replace the 92 meters high Kensington Forum/Holiday Inn tower at 97-109 Cromwell Road with two bulky towers (one reaching to 102 metres, which would make it the tallest building in the borough) resting on a large seven storey plinth, was originally rejected by the RBKC planning committee in September 2018, due to the size and height of the two towers in the middle of an area where the prevailing height is 5-6 storey Victorian terraces.

The London mayor,  Sadiq Khan, decided to call in the application, as his office felt that it had many advantages for London, and that discussions with the developer could make it even more palatable. His office then negotiated an increase of the affordable housing units in the complex with the developer, from 46 to 62 units, by adding two more floors to the plinth. This revised application was then subject of a public hearing in June 2019, at which Khan approved it.

RBKC then requested a judicial review, as Kahn had made his decision without first notifying the housing secretary (who at the time was James Brokenshire) of his intention and thereby give the housing secretary a chance to review and possibly call-in the application himself. RBKC meant that this was an abuse of power, intended to prevent the housing secretary from exercising his legal right to intervene. In March 2020, the High Court looked at the case and agreed that the mayor had acted wrongly, meaning that a new decision must be made by City Hall. As a consequence, this second hearing in October was held.

The Kensington Society worked closely with a strong force of local residents and the council to present a robust case at this second hearing. The aim was to demonstrate that this scheme is contrary to both the mayor’s new London plan and the borough’s new local plan with regard to tall buildings and hotel development. A particular element of the challenge was the impact of this massive scheme on the surrounding streetscape and the Kensington skyline. We supported local residents in commissioning a report on the likely impact that the scheme would have on the townscape of the surrounding areas.

While the result of the mayoral hearing is the same as before, this time the housing secretary (now Robert Jenrick) will have time to consider whether he should intervene.

The revised complex (red) with the existing Kensington Forum Hotel (blue) superimposed onto it, which gives a sense of the difference in height and massing. Picture based on drawings in the revised application. (Click to enlarge)

This shows the the various components of the planned complex: the podium at the bottom, the hotel section (A) in beige, the serviced flats (B) in blue, and the residential section (C) in yellow. On top of the additional two residential floors there will be a roof terrace for the the occupants of the residential block. Picture from the revised application. (Click to enlarge)

Published 16/11/2020