Update: Third public hearing about Newcombe House

Following housing secretary James Brokenshire’s decision to call in the application for the third version of Newcombe House scheme on 14 March, the Planning Inspectorate has now announced that there will be a third public hearing about the planned development in Notting Hill Gate on 5-14 November 2019. The previous ones were held in February 2017 (by the Planning Inspectorate) and in September 2018 (by London mayor Sadiq Khan).

The current third version was approved by Sadiq Khan after his hearing in 2018, but in December 2018 Brokenshire issued a holding direction which prevented work to begin until he had decided if he would call in the application.

Khan’s approval of the third version (a result of negotiations between his office and the developer) came after two refusals by the RBKC planning committee (in March 2016 and January 2018), with the Planning Inspectorate’s refusal in June 2017 (after the first hearing) and the second version of the application in September 2017 in between. The first application was submitted in 2015, following pre-application discussions in 2014, so this development has been bouncing back and forth between the developer and various authorities for five years – so far.

Brokenshire’s call-in means that he and the Planning Inspectorate (which works under him) have decided to take another look at the application and all arguments for and against it. As a consequence, interested parties were invited to submit comments to the Planning Inspectorate until 14 May. The procedure will culminate with the public hearing in November, before Brokenshire either overrules Khan’s approval or supports it.

As the planning inspector leading the first public hearing in 2017 largely approved of the very first Newcombe House application, but decided to dismiss the appeal against the council’s refusal as he felt that the developer could improve on the affordable housing element; and as the second application addressed that issue; and the third application (the one approved by Khan) improved the affordable housing element even further, a Brokenshire refusal that is backed by the Planning Inspectorate would require the Inspectorate to revert its previous position.

However, it is possible that Brokenshire will refuse even if the Planning Inspectorate approves. That’s what happened in December 2018, when he refused a large development in Purley, stating “serious concerns” about the design as his reason, although the development had been approved by Croydon council’s planning committee, by Sadiq Khan and by the Planning Inspectorate. In March, however, Brokenshire accepted that his decision letter regarding the Purley development should be nulled, as a High Court ruling had found his reason for refusing to be “inadequate”.

According to some housing experts, Brokenshire’s decision to call in the Newcombe House plans is part of an ongoing party political battle between him and Khan, where Brokenshire tends to intervene whenever Khan takes decisions which go against the wishes of Tory councillors or MPs.

A nighttime view of the planned Newcombe House complex, from the corner of Kensington Mall and Kensington Church Street. Picture courtesy of Brockton Capital and U+I.

View northward of the three buildings that would replace Newcombe House, with the current building (blue) superimposed onto them, which shows the difference in height and massing. Picture created from drawings in the application.

Updated 04/06/2019