Update: New Kensington Forum application approved by Khan

After a public hearing in City Hall on Friday 21 June, London mayor Sadiq Khan decided to grant planning permission for the revised Kensington Forum Hotel application, subject to the completion of a legal agreement. His decision, which includes the approval of a new 102 meter high hotel that will be the highest building in the borough, went against the wishes of all local residents’ associations, the RBKC council, and Kensington’s MP, Emma Dent Coad.
Sadiq Khan stated that the 62 affordable housing units, the employment gain, increased number of bedrooms in the hotel and the serviced flats, and a reconfigured open space where his main reasons for approving the scheme. He did not give much weight to the impact that the scheme’s massive set of buildings will have on both the surrounding areas and on longer views and the skyline.

Michael Bach spoke at the hearing for both the Kensington Society and Victoria Road Area Residents’ Association, and informed Khan that already the 1970 approval of existing building was a significant deviation from the rather relaxed planning policies at the time, taken because of an acute hotel bedroom shortage and a time-limited government grant scheme, and that the proposed scheme would create a massive block of buildings with 60% more floorspace and twice the volume of the 1970 scheme, dominated by even taller/broader main tower, which with its 102 metres would be the tallest building in the borough, plus another 77m tower for the serviced flats, which will become the fourth highest building in the borough.

However, those arguments didn’t carry much weight with Khan. Here is a link to the actual approval, which contains 65 conditions.

However, Khan’s approval is probably not the final word regarding this scheme, as housing secretary James Brokenshire may decide to call in the application in his turn, just as he has done with Newcombe House. He seems rather keen to do so whenever Khan takes a decision which goes against a Tory lead  council or a Tory MP…

The battle over the hotel – how it began

Following the RBKC planning committee’s decision to refuse the Kensington Forum Hotel (i.e. Holiday Inn on Cromwell Road) application on 27 September 2018, due to the size and height of the two hotel towers in the complex, London mayor Sadiq Khan called in the application in November, as his office felt that it had many advantages for London and that discussions with the developer could make it even more palatable.

Legal challenge required new call-in

However, in December Khan’s office was faced with a legal challenge from RBKC, as his call-in letter stated, among the reasons for the call-in, that Kensington & Chelsea had only seen 153 new homes being built in 2016-2017. RBKC pointed out that the true figure was 319 homes and asked the High Court of Justice for a judicial review, as the council felt that the call-in letter contained “a material error of fact”.

On 16 April, the issue was settled in the High Court, with Khan’s office accepting the mistake, so a week later, on 23 April, the deputy mayor for planning, Jules Pipes, issued a revised call-in on behalf of Sadiq Khan which didn’t mention the number of homes built in RBKC, but simply stated that Khan was taking over the decision of this application in accordance with article 7 of the Mayor of London Order and the powers conferred by Section 2A of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, due to the development’s scale and the impact it may have on the implementation of the London Plan.

Revised application with all flats affordable

Discussions between Khan’s planners and the developer, about how the plans could be improved to better meet the GLA goal to drastically increase London’s stock of affordable housing, had obviously been going on since the first call-in, because on 1 May the developer submitted a revised application which increases the number of residential flats on the site with almost 50%: from 46 to 62, and they will all be genuinely affordable rented (i.e. socially rented). The previous application only contained 11 such flats, while 26 would have been full priced leaseholds and nine would have been intermediately affordable leaseholds (i.e. sold at up to 80% of full price).

There will be no changes to the hotel tower, with its 749 rooms and suites, or to the “aparthotel” tower, with its 340 serviced flats (which will be part of the hotel).

Slight height increase of the podium

The increase in number of residential flats has mainly been achieved by making the 2- and 3-bed flats slightly smaller and by increasing the height of the podium – the long building which the two hotel towers sit on – with two floors, to 44 meters, at its southern, residential end. There will, however, be no increase in height of the two towers, which with 102 and 77 meters respectively will be the tallest and the fourth tallest buildings in the borough, with Trellick Tower (98m) and Chelsea Waterfront Easter Tower (85m – to be completed in 2021) in between. The chimney on Lots Road power station and the St Mary Abbots Church spire are also 85 meters high, but can’t be regarded as buildings.

When (and if) the project has received green lights from everyone, including the housing secretary, the developer estimates it will take five years to demolish the current hotel and built the replacement complex. i.e. if work was to start next summer, the new complex wouldn’t be ready until sometime in 2025.

More details about the application can be found on the RBKC planning website.

These two pictures show the main external difference between the old application (left) and the revised one (right). The almost 50% increase of residential flats has been achieved by adding two floors to left-hand side of the podium (the long building that the two towers stand on. Pictures from the two applications. (Click to enlarge)

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)

First published 10/05/2019, revised 23/06/2019