The Newcombe House complex as it is today, looking north from Kensington Church Street (left), and what it will look like if the plans in the end are allowed (right). Pictures courtesy of Brockton Capital and U+I.

Newcombe House plans yet again refused by the council

At a much delayed planning committee meeting on 31 January (originally scheduled for early December), which was packed with both objectors and supporters, the RBKC planning committee once again decided to refuse the plans for the Newcombe House complex at the corner of Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Church Street. As in March 2016, the refusal went against the planning officer’s recommendation to approve, and  the fact that the revised plans followed the advice for a successful application outlined by Planning Inspector David Nicholson in his decision in June 2017 also didn’t sway the majority of the committee members. Nine voted for the refusal and three voted against.

The planning committee’s arguments were basically the same as last time: The tallest building would be too tall, would be of “insufficient high design quality”, would “not have a wholly positive impact on the townscape”, and “the public benefits would be insufficient to outweigh those harms.

And although the committee recognised that “slightly more affordable housing floorspace is proposed than currently exists”, it felt that “the proposals would result in the loss of social rented homes within the borough”, which indicates that the committee considered 20 bedsits for 20 persons to be more valuable than nine larger flats which would provide more individuals with social housing.

In a rather unusual addition to the decision, the committee basically states that the planning inspector’s appeal decision in June 2017 did not carry much weight and should not have been used as a guideline by the developer when the new revised plans were made: “Although the appeal decision was material, the committee did not consider that the weight attached to the appeal decision and the public benefits of the scheme were sufficient material considerations to grant planning permission.”

The planning inspector wrote in his decision that he saw no reason to object to the height, size or design of the project, and he welcomed the public amenities it would result in. He concluded that the character, appearance and design of the project would be “a convincing ensemble” that would comply with the policies for such matters in the London Plan, the national planning policy framework and the council’s consolidated local plan. However, he still dismissed the developer’s appeal as he felt that it should be financially possible to provide an element of social housing on site or at least within the borough to compensate the loss of the 20 bedsits in Royston Court. He therefore advised the developer to have another look at the plan and try to solve this hurdle.

The developer’s solution was to revise the plans and submit a new application in early September 2017 where one of the planned resident buildings along Kensington Church Street would be changed into nine socially rented flats that could house 25-35 persons.

In accordance with the rules for major applications, the application has now been forwarded to the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, for consideration. He can either choose not to intervene, in which case the planning committee’s decision stands, or he can overrule the council and grant the developer planning permission.

Last time, the then London mayor, Boris Johnson, decided not to intervene, and his decision came 2½ months after the council refusal. If that time schedule is anything to go by, a decision from Khan could come in mid April. But this year we have local elections on 3 May, and the pre-election purdah begins 27 March. During purdah most political decisions are put on hold, although the rules state that planning application decisions can be made. So, unless Kahn decides very quickly, before mid March, his decision is likely to be delayed to late May or June.

Should Kahn decide not to intervene, and thereby let the planning committee’s refusal stand, the developer may once again appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

This story is far from over…

Picture above: A nighttime view of the planned Newcombe House complex, from the corner of Kensington Mall and Kensington Church Street. Picture below: A model of the planned complex. The building at the bottom, with a black roof, would house the nine affordable flats. Both pictures courtesy of Brockton Capital and U+I.

Article published 19/02/2018. Updated 06/03/2018