A nighttime view of the planned Newcombe House complex, from the corner of Kensington Mall and Kensington Church Street. All pictures on this page are courtesy of Brockton Capital and U+I.

Newcombe House finally approved by Robert Jenrick

After seven years of applications, refusals, approvals and three public hearings, housing secretary Robert Jenrick finally approved the Newcombe House complex on 25 June. The scheme had been called in for the housing secretary’s determination by his predecessor, James Brokenshire, after the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s approval of the third version of the scheme in 2018.

In his decision, Jenrick states that he fully agrees with the conclusions made by planning inspector Christina Downes, following the public inquiry she led in November 2019 – and she in turn agreed with the conclusions made by both Sadiq Khan, when he approved the scheme in September 2018 after his public hearing three months earlier, and by her own colleague David Nicholson in June 2017, following the public inquiry he led in February 2017. Although Nicholson dismissed the developer’s appeal against the council’s first refusal in 2016, he was largely positive to it but felt that the developer should come up with a revised plan which contained more affordable housing.

After the council in January 2018 rejected such a revised plan, containing the additional affordable housing Nicholson had asked for, Sadiq Khan called in the application and managed to get the developer to add even more affordable housing to the project. He then approved this second revision.

The plans for Newcombe House were from the start opposed by a very vocal and aggressive local campaign, which even resulted in the creation of a residents’ association for those living closest to the site. However, realising early on that any redevelopment of the constrained site would have to result in a higher building than the current in order to be financially viable, the Kensington Society and the Ladbroke Association decided to be actively engaged in the plans. Previous owners of the site had not been interested in involving residents’ associations in their plans, but Brockton Capital, the company that bought Newcombe House in 2011, turned out to be surprisingly willing to listen and discuss with local residents. That engagement contributed to the incorporation of a much needed GP surgery for 18,000 residents; a large public square where the farmers market can continue as before; more office and retail space than the current buildings; step-free access to Notting Hill Gate tube station’s eastbound platform; and 33 genuinely affordable flats, of which 23 will be on site. The Kensington Society’s and the Ladbroke Association’s main concern throughout this lengthy process was that if the scheme didn’t succeed, Brockton would be forced to sell the site to another developer, who would go for a much more extreme scheme and wouldn’t have the same willingness to engage with local residents.

In his decision letter, Jenrick agrees with the inspector’s conclusion that the impact of the scheme on listed buildings, conservation areas and local heritage will not be significant enough to outweigh the benefits of redeveloping the site.

In her long report to Jenrick, dated 26 March 2020 and attached to Jenrick’s letter, planning inspector Christina Downes concludes:

“The development would result in a substantial improvement on this important corner site by replacing the ugly 1960’s rectangular slab with an elegant and slender slipped form tower. It would provide a worthy landmark within the District Centre and close to the underground station. Whilst there would be some small negative impacts on the townscape, particularly to the north and west, overall the effects would be neutral to beneficial.”

So, what will happen now? Although highly unlikely, the council may decide to challenge Jenrick’s approval in the High Court, which must be done no later than 6 August.

There will be five different entrances to the public square. This is the entrance from Notting Hill Gate, a wide passageway through the tall corner building.

The artist’s vision of what the public square in the Newcombe House complex would look like. The three-storey building on the left would have four London Living Rent flats above the ground floor shops, and the GP surgery would occupy the three top floors of the building behind it. To the right of that building, the tower block is visible.

The Newcombe House complex viewed from the other side of Notting Hill Gate, with a big office glass box in front.

Published 17/07/2020, edited 18/07/2020